More Than Just a Circus:
A Review of Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba

by Deb Wills and Linda Eckwerth

Feature Article

This article appeared in the June 26, 2001 Issue #92 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.


LA NOUBA! CIRQUE DU SOLEIL! the colorful ads on the Disney buses almost screamed at us! It looked exciting, like something we'd really enjoy, but every time we thought about getting tickets, the $71 per person price tag for something that was "just a circus" put us off.

Yet, everyone we talked with who had seen the La Nouba show raved and raved about it -- some were even a bit incredulous that we had not seen it even once, since many of them had seen it two or even three times. We began to realize that this show must be much more than "just a circus" to garner such attention.

What IS La Nouba? That's a good question and one not easy to answer. Some say it's a circus? but it is not; it's a musical? but it is not; it's a gymnastic/acrobatic show ?but it is not; it's an opera ?but it is not. What it is, is all of this? and much, more more.

Boasting former Olympians, gymnasts, ballerinas and many other talented performers, La Nouba is a Broadway class, original theatrical production, with incredible staging and lighting, energizing original music and dazzling special effects.

The show is one of several produced by a company called Cirque du Soleil, which began in 1984 as a small group of traveling performers. Today, the company employs more than 2,100 worldwide, with established performances in Las Vegas and Orlando, and several traveling productions as well. According to Guy Laliberté, founding president, "Cirque du Soleil's mission is to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of people around the world."

The premise behind the La Nouba show, Orlando's Cirque du Soleil entry, is described best by the program: "Once upon a time, a door opened and two worlds collided. Dreams clashed with reality. The mundane mixed with the marvelous. It was no longer possible to tell where one world began and the other ended. This new place was called La Nouba."

After hearing all this and all the rave reviews, we decided that seeing La Nouba was something we HAD to do on our next trip to Walt Disney World. So, earlier this month, we bit the bullet and got same-day tickets for a 9 p.m. show. Because we had been up since 4 a.m. (it was our travel day to WDW), we were wondering how we were going to be able to stay awake for the late show. This turned out NOT to be an issue! And, I'm happy to report, we didn't regret our investment one bit!

The box office recommends you pick your tickets up at Will Call no less than one hour before the performance and be in your seat 30 minutes before the performance. This seemed a bit excessive to us, but if you want to get your seat, then wander around looking at the gift shop and get snacks and beverages, you'll need that time. The beverage lines were long and the theater was only ¾ full the night we went.

The section areas are well-marked on both the tickets and the theater entrances. Once inside the theater itself, there were plenty of ushers to assist with seat location. The 1,671-seat theater is the first of its kind, specifically built for Cirque du Soleil. The building, designed by a team that included set designer Michel Crete, Walt Disney Imagineering and the Rockwell Group architects, was made to convey an elegance reminiscent of a traditional circus Big Top.

We found our seats located in the upper section just above the entryway into the theater. We were initially concerned that the stage lights located just below the railing where we were seated would interfere with the show, but luckily they did not. As it turned out, these were great seats! We could see everything below, above and side-to-side.

Fifteen minutes before the show began, two clowns appeared to entertain, with a tad of audience participation. We saw them again periodically throughout the show. There was even one skit where they were "astronauts," which was quite funny. The house lights dimmed and a spotlight shone on a performer playing a haunting solo piece on the trumpet. He began walking the perimeter of the theater with the other cast members following. We looked at each other and immediately knew this would be like no other show we had ever seen.

There was so much happening on the stage that it was hard to focus on one performance. Even though there is one stage, there was a surreal feeling of a three-ring circus. Performers were moving about constantly. There always seemed to be dancers in the background while the main act was being performed in the front part of the stage. Part of the beauty of La Nouba is the intricate staging -- 75-foot rising towers and 16-foot elevator lifts are so intertwined in the show that you hardly knew they were there.

There really isn't a "main act" of the show. The entire performance is made up of various segments, all of which transition with lights and music. Linda particularly enjoyed the young girls performing with the diabolo, or Chinese yo-yo. These kids were phenomenal! They never missed a beat and caught the spools every time!

Deb was intrigued by the "Muscle Man". He paraded around the stage during and in between acts. He always had a sneer on his face and walked as if he were stalking someone or something. His main performance, near the end of the show, was well worth waiting for! He bounced off the floor and walked up what appeared to be a three-story building, landing on the roof. At times he walked, then flew into one of the open windows. He, as well as the other performers, did this type of maneuver effortlessly and with such grace. I must say that all the performers appeared flawless.

Other than gasps and thunderous applause, the audience made barely any sound during the entire 90-minute production. We sat on the edge of our seats, eyes wide open, afraid to miss something. The only words we could utter were, "Wow! How did they do that?" When the show was over, I realized there had been no dialogue, just music, a blend of opera, classical and jazz. I especially liked the music.

I don't want to go into detail about each act and spoil the mystery and surprise of the show. Let's just say there will be plenty for everyone to enjoy.

And who knows? You, too, could be part of La Nouba, as ALL EARS reader Keith Johnson was: "During the bike performance, an audience member is pulled out of their seat and carried to the stage. They are laid down next to one of the white-costumed clowns, and the biker jumps over both. During the show I attended, this was ME! I didn't know it would be happening, but when they grabbed me I instantly played along, miming great struggle and terror. The jump was successful (as always), but I was not prepared for what happened next. The clown I was laying next to looked at me and said, 'Yeah, gimme a hug!' He SPOKE to me! I was NOT expecting this! I was totally flummoxed, gave him a hug, and got off the stage quickly, totally forgetting to be 'in character.' Needless to say, it was a highlight of our trip."

There's no getting around it - tickets for this show ARE expensive: $67 plus tax for adults and $39 plus tax for children 3-9. However, I truly believe the show is worth every penny.

If you are looking to do something a little different on your next trip, consider this show. It will leave you in awe sitting on the edge of your seat with goose bumps!

Order tickets by calling (407) 939-7719 or from your travel agent.

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Before seeing La Nouba, I asked ALL EARS subscribers to send in their questions. Here are the questions, and their answers, that weren't addressed in the above review.

Q: "Do you have to dress up?"

AE: No, you don't have to dress up. I saw most folks in their casual vacation attire (shirts and shoes are required). Don't be put off, though, if you see some folks dressed up?especially on the weekends.

Q: "What are the best seats?"

AE: That is a little hard to answer since I have only seen the show once. We loved the seats we had.

Here's what some ALL EARS readers have to say about seating!

** 1st time our seats were center--last year our seats were more on the side--definitely a different perspective with center seats--enjoyed much more. - KathyL

** We have always sat on the 2nd level of the theatre and enjoy watching the people walk by us at the beginning. - Barrie

** I recommend sitting facing the front stage and about 8-10 rows back. This is because there is always something happening in all parts of the stage and you need to sit where you can observe it all. - Rich R

** The seats even though we were in rear left of theatre were great. - Yorke Rhodes

** We had seats in the middle level, and everything could be viewed clearly. - Mary Cronin

A seating chart and other information can be found on the Cirque du Soleil website at: http://www.cirquedusoleil.com

Q: "Can you get any discounts?"

AE: On rare occasions, like right now, there is a Florida Resident discount. Occasionally, there has been a discount for Annual Passholders.

Q: "Are there any souvenirs for the show?"

AE: There are plenty of souvenirs, from t-shirts to a La Nouba CD, pins and more. You can also purchase souvenirs from the website. The gift shop is open 11 a.m. to midnight.

Q: "Does one need to buy tickets in advance to this or are they available on-site prior to show?"

AE: During busy seasons at WDW, La Nouba does sell out prior to the day of the show. However, during off times, you should be able to walk up and get tickets the day of.

Q: "How can I justify spending $71 each for 3 people to see an hour and a half show?"

AE: Overwhelmingly, the ALL EARS readers who wrote loved the production. Many felt similar to Jerry Hall: "At first the price is a little scary, but, man, is it worth every cent spent!!"

And many of the emails were like these from Carrie and Cheryl:

** My husband and I were apprehensive about seeing Cirque du Soleil. We're not big fans of circuses or dancing, and that was all we thought the show was about. Boy, were we wrong. My in-laws gave us tickets to see the show on my birthday, otherwise we wouldn't have gone. We were blown away by Cirque du Soleil. It's definitely one of the most unique shows we've seen. I'd recommend to anyone who thinks it won't be their cup of tea to give it a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. - Carrie Templeton

** Well...I haven't taken my grandson yet, but I did take my husband. He only agreed to go because I wanted to see it. He can be a bit difficult to entertain at times and I wasn't expecting him to enjoy this show at all. Boy, was I wrong! It is now his favorite thing to do at WDW -- right behind the Epcot Food and Wine Festival! He tells everyone to make sure to see Cirque when they visit WDW. This is an extremely high recommendation, especially considering that he's not easily impressed. - Cheryl

But not quite everyone loved the show. I received a few (very few) comments like this one:

** I saw the show and was entertained, but my wife was rather underwhelmed. Anyone going should be ready for an offbeat, different type of circus. The tickets are quite expensive, although Disney did manage to keep the prices somewhat lower than the Cirque shows in Las Vegas (the 'O' show at the Bellagio runs a whopping $100 and $120). - Bobby Grimsley

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What about children? Originally I planned to answer this question by saying this show is not for young children. When the house lights came on, Linda and I did notice several little ones sound asleep. Then, later we reminded ourselves it was 10:30 p.m.!

I also asked Moms and Dads to send in their comments to ALL EARS regarding taking their children to see La Nouba. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Here is a sample of the emails I received.

** My husband and I took our children, then ages 8 and 10, to see "La Nouba." They absolutely loved it. The WDW Cirque was more "edge of your seat" suspenseful. How can they do those acrobatics so high up in the air without killing themselves? I would not take a child younger than six. I don't think they would appreciate it, especially at the prices charged. - Kathy G.

** How did my son (age 11) enjoy it? He loved it. He very seldom sits quietly for 15 minutes, but had no trouble with this show. The only words out of his mouth were, "Did you see that?" - Jan E.

** I was worried about the 2 -year-old, but she loved looking at all of the sights on stage. Near the end, when she was slightly sick of sitting in the seat, I let her sit in the aisle next to my seat. But I should have remembered the performers use the aisles!!! So I quickly had to whisk her on to my lap. She does like to see plays, but I would recommend it for 5 years old and up. - Kelli Russell

** My only recommendation is that parents of toddlers not take their children. The show is an hour and a half long, the theater is dark the whole time and there was a screaming toddler for about 20 minutes toward the end, who was occasionally drowned out by the music. It distracted from the show. - Lisa C

** In the end of March, we took four children (cousins) twin girls age 7, one girl age 6, one boy age 5 1/2. They were pretty good at sitting still. The seats even though we were in rear left of theatre were great. The theatre is designed very well -- much better than the metal seats Cirque du Soleil uses when it comes to the NYC area. The 6 year old girl really liked the bicycle stunts, which the three adults agreed were excellent. I don't think I would take kids younger than 5 1/2. - Yorke Rhodes III

** I just wanted to say as an every three year visitor, my family and I saw La Nouba on our last visit for the new Millennium. Not only was it the best show we've seen at Disney, but also better than the numerous Broadway shows our family has attended. When I asked our two girls 9 and 12, (7 & 11 last visit) what they wanted to do and see this trip Cirque de Soleil was top priority on both of their lists. Mine too! - Paul A. Tinker

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ALL EARS Readers Tips:

** No flash photography is allowed. You can take photos, but not with a flash. This was very disappointing. I did take some without a flash, but because everything is always moving, the pictures did not come out too well. - Nesron

** My only suggestion for parents with children (we have two) is not to drink too much before or during the show. My daughter had to go to the bathroom towards the end of the show and we made her wait until it was over because we would have missed too much by being gone that short amount of time. - Kim

** And this holds true for adults too. A number of readers shared Julie Feasel's sentiments: "My only hint is that you use the bathroom BEFORE the show so that you don't miss any minute of it."

** I thought there was a lack of food available, especially if you plan on having dinner or a snack for children. - Connie Roberts

** For anyone with a disability who needs to stretch their legs out and can't sit with them cramped up: I didn't mention this when I booked for Cirque, and when I got to the theater I found that there wasn't enough legroom. I knew that after an hour and a half sitting like that I would be in agony, so I asked the attendant if there was an alternative. They were great and showed me to a new seat on an ordinary chair. As well as the fixed seating, there are groups of about five non-fixed chairs spaced out along the walkway. I had a great view and was able to stretch out my legs. Make sure you ask when you book your seats. - Joanne

Many thanks to everyone who sent in comments!


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.