When Awakening opened at Wynn Las Vegas last fall, it was one of the first major stage productions on the Las Vegas Strip to open in quite some time. When the show closed in April of this year for a two-month pause, locals and visitors were both shocked. Now Awakening has returned with a reimagined concept that preserves the original integrity of the show, with some new key elements. We talked with Awakening Producer Baz Halpin about what has changed, why the pause was necessary, and what audience members can expect to see.
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Awakening’s Return to Las Vegas
“When we opened in November, December, we were on that high of having opened a show; we were in the bubble of creation for 18 months, two years,” Halpin told us as he detailed the necessity behind the two-month pause of Awakening. “But we were doing it over Zoom because it was COVID. So it was like trying to put on a show that’s this big, this complicated with Zoon. It was kind of the opposite of what that process should be, right? It’s all about people and being in a space, and being creative. So we were in this bubble. And then, because of quarantines and the literal bubbles that we had to maintain, getting out and getting away and getting objectivity was really difficult. So we opened in November, December, and it was really great. And then we had January, February, and we started to take stock and started to look at, okay, what’s working and what’s not working? If we could change things, what could we change? And we came to a conclusion, okay, we could make little tweaks as we go. But really, what we need to do is to shut down for two months and make some fundamental changes and have the time to do it properly. Now that we’re out of COVID. And now that we can actually get some objectivity. And, so that’s what we chose to do.”
For those who saw and loved the first incarnation of Awakening, the essence of the production still remains, with some new additions. “The heart and soul of the show is still the same; it’s still Awakening. But what we’ve done is we’ve accentuated the elements that we felt we were missing,” Halpin said of the new additions. “We’ve added more comedy, more special effects, more acrobatics. We addressed the comment that most people wanted, which was a better understanding of the characters in the story; they wanted more from it, which was interesting because we thought in Las Vegas that that’s not what people wanted. But it turned out it was so. So we’ve done that. What we have now is—you know, I was amazingly proud of the first show—I’m even more proud of the second one.”
Awakening takes place on the circular stage that once housed Le Rêve by the late Franco Dragone. While the stage set is beautiful and allows all audience members a stunning view, the stage shape does present some challenges that were addressed during the reimagining of Awakening. “Because of the little tweaks that we’ve done, especially when you’re working in the round is very difficult because you’re constantly drawing attention, but you want to keep some variety; you don’t just want to have the actors in the center of the stage all the time,” Halpin explained. “So you’re directing attention; if you don’t direct the attention properly, within the other things that you do, don’t land, the illusion won’t land. Because if you’re not looking at the illusion when it happens, you’ll miss the illusion or the great choreographic moment or these different moments. We learned so much about that particular part of it that when we came back to sort of retell the story in a more simplified way that we can integrate now, how we were telling the story visually to make it more streamlined. The result is that when people come to see it, they think it’s an entirely new show because they’re seeing it in a different way. The way they’re being led down. The path is different. I can’t wait for people to see it.”
Audience members familiar with the original show will see some new faces integrated amongst the returning cast. “We’ve added some new performers, particularly in the specialty roles. So we have a new wonderful new performer who does this incredible dance with fire,” Halpin said of the new talent. “We have some wonderful acrobatics and some aerialists, but this is not an act-based show. It’s a storyline. So all of those different sorts of specialty performers are integrated in a way that services the story and services the characters, so the show never stops for an act. It’s all part of the journey and part of the story. So it’s very fulfilling, and it feels very different from any other kind of act that you would see in town.”
At its core, Awakening remains the same story that drew in audiences during its first round. “Our characters are the same. It’s the story of IO and the story, you know, it’s the story of Light and Dark, which has always been essentially a love story,” Halpin told us. “It’s about the reuniting of these two perfect opposites. And we’re embodied in the characters of light and darkness. And IO has been the one tasked with that responsibility. So it’s still that same story, but how they go about it and the interaction between the characters. It’s an incredible stage, a beautiful room; our costumes are unlike anything. I mean, everybody loves the costumes. You know, and that was something that will always be one of the most talked about aspects; we’re very fortunate to have Soyon An, who is a wonderful costumer. I always wanted the show to have a lot of heart. That was kind of the most important thing. A show that would make people smile a lot but also gets them a little bit weepy. I hope that we’ve achieved that, and I believe we have.”