Innovation and technology combine to create new entertainment spectacles.

The Fountains of Bellagio is one of the most ambitious, choreographically complex water entertainment features ever conceived.

To say that the timing for opening a new resort is not ideal is a vast understatement, as a recession unlike anything experienced since the Great Depression holds the nation in its grips. Marnell is realistic about the short-term prospects for the Las Vegas property but optimistic that M Resort will get its fair share of the market.

Plenty of ink has been spilled chronicling the technological marvel that is Cirque du Soleil’s Ka theater. The $165 million, 1,951-seat arena has speakers built into the headrests, a 25 x 50-foot floating stage and a beach created from 350 cubic feet of granular cork imported from Portugal.

The Marnell Carrao Associates architectural firm built the theater specifically for Ka, with the goal of creating a singular environment conducive to the show’s atypical dramatics.

“The Ka showroom in particular is not typical of a Broadway-style theater,” said Mitch Trageton, executive vice president of architecture for Marnell Corrao Associates, which also built specially designed theaters for four other Cirque productions: “Mystere” at T.I., “O” at Bellagio, “Zumanity” at New York-New York and “The Beatles LOVE” at the Mirage.

“Broadway-style shows like the Lion King play in typical theaters, where you have a stage area, a seating area and certain lighting positions,” Trageton said. “Those types of facilities have limited flexibility, whereas the theaters we built for Cirque are dedicated to specific shows playing in those spaces for long periods of time.”

As big-budget, Broadway-style shows have come to the Strip, the technological acumen and body of knowledge required to pull ever-bigger spectacles has dramatically increased.

Because Le Reve at Wynn Las Vegas takes place in a 1.1- million-gallon tank of water, each cast member must be SCUBA certified. Sixteen SCUBA divers are required for each performance.

Eighty-six pieces of pyrotechnics are fired during each Sirens of T.I., the popular pirates battle fronting the casino.

A computer program runs the famous Bellagio dancing fountains, choreographing the water blasts to music and automatically canceling or scaling down the show depending on the weather.

Technology is on display up and the down Strip-from digital lighting systems to master control software that integrates lighting, audio, video and HVAC into one master system.

The glut of high-tech entertainment prompted the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to create an Entertainment Engineering and Design program that teaches students about fine arts, engineering and emerging technologies.

Innovative cues

High-tech production has even inspired innovation.

After seeing “O” at the Bellagio, Celine Dion and Cirque du Soleil expatriate Franco Dragone teamed on “A New Day…,” a large-scale production featuring music, dance and visual effects.

Caesars Palace built Dion her own, specially designed theater-the $95 million, 4,100-seat Colosseum. More than three million people saw “A New Day…,” which ran from March 2003 to December 2007.

Shortly after Dion departed, technicians hurriedly began renovating the stadium to accommodate its next resident acts, Bette Midler and Cher.

They expanded the performance area 7,000 square feet (by eliminating 1,500 square feet of stairs) and added 148 seats, bringing total capacity to 4,296.

They also installed a hydraulic 20x20 elevator to serve as the center-stage lift, removed the famous raked stage, redesigned of the current rigging system by adding five miles of sturdy wire rope, increased storage space for the set and improved the lighting and audio systems

“We had to create a [sound] system to accommodate all four artists,” Colosseum audio director and system engineer Dave Torti told in December. He was referring to Cher, Midler, Elton John and Jerry Seinfeld.

Shine a light

Lighting plays an equally important role in shows. Adam Camp, managing director of Las Vegas-based Neu Visions Design, said it creates the requisite ambiance. Proper lighting can make large rooms feel intimate and small spaces seem spacious. 

His firm has designed lighting systems for Pure and LAX nightclubs, among other venues. “Lighting can make everybody look beautiful and create a sense of comfort.”

It can also serve as a unifying theme for a show, as is the case with Crazy Horse at MGM Grand. Open since 2001, the Crazy Horse has drawn raves for its eclectic use of light to create textured effects: The light bathes the dancers in a rainbow array of colors and a mix of shapes, nearly overwhelming the eyes with multiple focal points.

The topless show is an adaptation of the Parisian original created by Alain Bernardin, an amateur artist who projected light and color on a woman and fell in love with the imagery.

“He started experimenting with shapes and images,” Sally Dewhurst, marketing manager for the Crazy Horse Las Vegas. “He saw the body as a blank canvas that he could paint by projecting light on the female form. We’ve incorporate light throughout our show. It really enhances everything.”

The era of gaudy production shows bodes well for companies nimble enough to embrace the latest technology, Trageton said. Innovative shows that effectively use light, sound and theater enhancements such as good sight lines  will likely have a leg up on their competitors.

“In the past, shows were based had cues based on a musical score and someone controlled the board to determine when lights when on and on,” Trageton said. “Now a computer program runs all the cues: fire effects, soundtrack, things popping out of the floor, lights, computer-controlled lighting and automated show systems. Technology is here to stay.”