With debut of 'Awakening,' a celebrated showman's dream becomes reality

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"Awakening," seen here during the opening night performance, is performed twice nightly on Tuesdays through Sundays at the theater at Wynn Las Vegas.
"Awakening," seen here during the opening night performance, is performed twice nightly on Tuesdays through Sundays at the theater at Wynn Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Denise Truscello /Getty Images for Wynn Las Vegas
Paul Szydelko
Paul Szydelko

Not too long after guests are seated in the elegant, 360-degree theater in Wynn Las Vegas for "Awakening," they feel immersed in water. Smoke and lights emulate the surface of the sea above, a whale and other startling creatures appear to swim through or float, and thrilling action unfolds on the blue- and pink-hued floor below.

In contrast to the aquatically themed "Le Reve," which the theater previously housed, not one drop of water is used in "Awakening," which opened last month. But the 75-minute production employs many of the latest theatrical effects to tell an elaborate story of hope, harmony and love.

Giant puppets and ingenious props appear and disappear, and well-crafted illusions keep audiences guessing about what they're seeing. The versatile stage is made of up of glass and custom LED screens to create infinite colors and even three-dimensional effects. It has eight lifts to gently split, rotate, rise and fall as evocatively costumed performers step, dance and jump. Cast members also use six transparent bridges that descend from the rafters to reach a stage that's almost constantly moving.

The superb sound system, augmented with two speakers mounted on all 1,600 seats, delivers an original musical score. The voice of Anthony Hopkins narrates the journey of a heroine and two fellow travelers as they seek to restore beauty and love to the world in four realms: water, earth, air and fire.

"Awakening," the culmination of more than five years of creative and strategic planning, cost $120 million to produce, Wynn's largest entertainment investment to date. At the helm are a dream team of live entertainment: executive producer Bernie Yuman, whose credits include Siegfried & Roy in Las Vegas and "On Your Feet" on Broadway; director Baz Halpin, who has produced concerts for many renowned singers; and character designer Michael Curry, best known for his work on Broadway's "The Lion King."

I had a chance to interview Yuman after the opening. The conversation was edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: Tell me about the project's genesis.
A: We wanted to create something that would be original. Our rules of thumb: Never bring to Las Vegas what you can see in your hometown. Derivative is commonplace; original is extraordinary. Create an original spectacle that would bring technology deep into the 21st century.

Bernie Yuman is the executive producer who brought "Awakening" to the stage at Wynn Las Vegas.
Bernie Yuman is the executive producer who brought "Awakening" to the stage at Wynn Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Sabin Orr for Wynn Las Vegas

Q: What concepts did you want to implement?
A: Music, grand illusion and spectacle.

Q: Cirque du Soleil has set the standard for Vegas' theatrical productions since "Mystere" opened in 1993. How do you elevate those expectations?
A: The creative team had their own goals and were not really influenced by anything else. This is not a show like any other show. It can't be described like any other show. The thought was to bring the public something that would be captivating and immersive. And that's why the technology is so important as a part of "Awakening." But [it] is the combination of all of its parts, and it really brings something different than what's been in Las Vegas actually for decades.

Q: How did you get Anthony Hopkins aboard?
A: We've had a friendship for a very long time. He was very interested in what we were doing, and once he got to read the script and see the visuals, he really wanted to participate. He was filming a movie in London. Baz Halpin and I met him in London, and we actually went to Abbey Road [Studios] to record it. It was an extraordinary experience. He had great direction and all the visuals that he needed, and he was captivated. It's really so enjoyable and really remarkable.

Q: How did your longtime experience with Siegfried and Roy help with what you wanted to accomplish with "Awakening"?
A: It's really pretty simple. I became the manager of Siegfried and Roy when I was very young. We stayed together for their entire career until the last day, and we had a great run. During those 25 years, I believe that the spectacle that [they] evolved changed entertainment domestically and globally. It was a wonderful experience for me. I'm very fortunate. I met Muhammad Ali at a very young age in Miami Beach, and I evolved to become his manager. He took me to countries all over the world. I was pretty much in the corner for every fight that he had from the first to the last. So I've had an interesting life and been blessed. But when you're surrounded by great talent and great people, it certainly has an effect on where you're going. I believe that "Awakening" is the culmination of all the blessings that have been bestowed on me, and I'm grateful for that.

Q. What makes you most proud of "Awakening"?
A: We're proud that when people come in, they're entertained and they have an opportunity to be taken out of this space where you don't really think about whether or not you have your valet ticket or if you've paid your electric bill, that you're immersed in an experience that's captivating and that you're entertained. That's what the live entertainment capital of the world is all about.

Showtimes are 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Tickets, starting at $125 (plus tax and fees), can be purchased online.

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