“Awakening” Reopens at Wynn Las Vegas and It Was Worth the Wait
“Awakening” has reopened at Wynn Las Vegas after a pause to reflect and lick some wounds after a shaky start.
The show opened on Nov. 7, 2022, then closed April 17, 2023 for a major overhaul. “Awakening 2.0” (our term, not theirs) relaunched on June 30, 2023.
The result? A dramatically improved show that delivers on the original promise of the production. We’ll put it in on-brand terms Wynn can use in its advertising: In a CGI world, “Awakening” is a testament to the unique power of live entertainment to thrill, mystify and ignite the senses. Maybe an Oxford comma in there somewhere? You get the point.
The bar has been raised (once again) for Las Vegas spectacle, and mixed reviews have turned into raves, including ours. And we tend to hate everything.
In layperson’s terms, which they definitely won’t use in their ads: If you see “Awakening,” you’ll wish you were a box jellyfish. Because box jellyfish have 24 eyes. You’ll wish you had more.
Oh, another line for the ads: You’ll have to go a dozen times just to see “Awakening” once! Just spit-balling here.
And it’s not just about visual stimulation, you’ll also love the music and will wish you were a long-eared jerboa. The animal with the highest ear-to-body size ratio of any animal. Please keep up. You can listen to the show’s soundtrack free at the official Web site.
So, what happened with “Awakening,” and why could it end up being one of the best comeback stories in the history of Las Vegas?
Well, for starters, “Awakening” cost north of $150 million to develop and stage. That’s more than twice the $62 million investment blown in Cirque’s disastrous “R.U.N.” at Luxor, a trainwreck that nearly pushed Cirque into bankruptcy (again). On the bright side, “Mad Apple” at New York-New York was a result of the belt-tightening at Cirque and it’s great, so there’s that.
“Awakening” simply didn’t connect with audiences when it opened. Wynn extensively surveyed audiences and got strong indications of what they felt wasn’t working. Tweaks weren’t the answer, the show needed to be “reimagined,” but without dumping the dazzling, kinetic stage or stunning costumes or larger-than-life puppets, all the things that were impressive from day one.
So, the creative team, led by director Baz Halpin, went to work. They dissected the show and attacked the structure and characters and flow and built something that feels entirely new.
One of the early concerns was people seemed confused by the show’s story. It was a weird bit of feedback given Cirque shows don’t require an understandable story to be successful. Several have been running decades in Las Vegas.
Still, confusion wasn’t a great selling point for “Awakening.”
The story is still somewhat baffling, but here’s the quick version: In the beginning, a phoenix creates Light and Dark. They are in love and blissfully happy until something happens and they are broken up and Dark goes really dark. The main character, IO, is charged with collecting stones in various realms. When the stones are reunited, so, too, are Light and Dark and we all live happily ever after.
The smartest thing “Awakening” did in its retooling was take many of our recommendations. (They already thought of everything we suggested before we suggested them, but how does that make us look better? Do you know this blog at all?)
Due to our extensive live theater experience of performing in “Oliver” in high school, and failing to be accepted to Juilliard, and performing magic at a family reunion one time, and having been a master ventriloquist for several weeks, we were uniquely qualified to provide guidance to a $150 million production.
Our main suggestions (one of which is a spoiler) were: 1) Add humor, 2) add variety acts, 3) make the main character the daughter of the other main characters (Light and Dark) so we could root for a reunion, 4) let people take photos to share in social media and 5) lower the ticket price.
“Awakening” did all those things.
The most important change: “Awakening” found its heart. There’s a genuine cathartic moment that simply wasn’t there before, as a family is reunited and the visual feast has actually served a purpose.
Even the name of the show has taken on new meaning. Previously, “Awakening” felt like a clever but somewhat superficial nod to Wynn’s previous show, “Le Reve,” or “the dream.” Now, a central character’s memories and love are reawakened.
IO’s original sidekicks have been shown the door, replaced by two Cirque-like comical characters. Their performances could be better scripted (the bulk of their dialogue is repeating each other’s names a lot), but the lighter moments are a much-needed contrast to the seriousness of “Awakening 1.0.”
The new ticket prices serve to make the show feel like a genuine value (tickets start at $99). “Awakening” kicks the ass of any show on Broadway, just use those prices for comparison purposes.
Also worth noting, parking remains free at Wynn Las Vegas.
We’re most shocked about the photography thing, actually. Nobody saw that coming, but hopefully it will serve as an example to other Las Vegas shows with Draconian rules about capturing photos to share with friends and family. People want to not only have amazing experiences, they want to share them. Social media is also the cheapest form of marketing, so there’s that.
Video is also technically permitted, but don’t do that. It can be annoying to the people behind you. Just be in the moment.
Exciting news! 📸 You can now capture Awakening from your point of view. Photos and videos are not only allowed but encouraged in the theater! 🎉
— Awakening at Wynn (@AwakeningatWynn) July 9, 2023
“Awakening” is now firing on all cylinders, and the results are astounding.
The technology is unparalleled, and in “Awakening 2.0,” the script has been flipped so the stage and other technical wizardry doesn’t upstage the performers, it supports the story and flow that propels us through the mind-blowing parade of never-before-seen visuals on display.
The puppets are creative and truly magical, including a majestic whale that’s the true star of the show.
The costumes are beyond belief and we are not a clothes person. The costumes in “Awakening” are worth the price of admission, to be honest. It’s like a 75-minute fashion show.
Oh, and they tweaked some costumes, too. The lead actress no longer reminds people of Milla Jovovich in “The Fifth Element.”
“Awakening” isn’t perfect, and it won’t be for everyone, but nothing is. If you don’t like spectacle, you may not care for this. There’s something for everyone in Las Vegas.
One of the remedies for the confusion expressed by audiences was Light appearing at the beginning of the show to do some mansplaining about what’s to unfold. It’s not a particularly elegant way to ensure everyone’s onboard, but it does help set the stage. There’s a storyteller character who would probably be better suited to doing this exposition.
It’s so great to be able to nitpick a great show, rather than not even writing a review the first time around because we didn’t know what to say.
In that vein, we’ll also say we don’t love the pop culture references used for humor. It’s hard enough to get modern audiences to suspend their disbelief, why wake them out of the dream you’ve worked so hard to create with a reference to the Raiders?
Also, the speakers on the sides of the seats provide great sound quality, along with the occasional concussion if you lean over to whisper to your companion.
“Awakening” has dramatically decreased the amount of Anthony Hopkins voice-over used during the show. He has a powerful voice, of course, but his narration wasn’t helping. He’s used more selectively now and it works. Nobody’s going to a stage show based upon who’s narrating it.
The show has added some fun acrobatic and aerial acts, but still includes some old-school magic tricks. On the bright side, they seem slicker and better-integrated now, they make more sense. The whole enterprise makes more sense, actually.
On the flip side, the show has one of the most remarkable illusions we’ve ever seen onstage, where Dark materializes from nothing. On a 360-degree stage. A brilliant entrance, brilliantly executed.
Props are definitely due Wynn Resorts for sticking with “Awakening,” even when the going got rough.
Fans who loved “Awakening” the first time around will love it even more, those who were disappointed should give it another shot and those who haven’t seen it can expect spectacle on a scale they’ve never experienced.
It now seems no coincidence a central element of “Awakening” is a phoenix, as this show has risen from the ashes to soar again. That probably should’ve been our caption for the phoenix photo, but we don’t live by society’s rules.
No one can predict the fate of such an expensive, lavish production, of course. Unrelated to the quality of a show, questions linger about whether this is the kind of show audiences are craving, especially with the surge in superstar residencies in Las Vegas. The culture is changing, and tastes evolve constantly.
“Awakening” is a new twist on a timeless form of Las Vegas entertainment. It’s everything, all at once, the whole time. A million moving parts, masterfully orchestrated and showcasing 100 things you not only didn’t know exist, but didn’t know could possibly exist. The human brain can’t really compute the complexity and beauty and imagination at play in the “Awakening” theater.
The decision to pause and “reimagine and restage” the show was part art, part commerce, but ultimately the show’s creative team has given “Awakening” the best possible chance of success.
Find out more about the show at the official “Awakening” Web site.
Let us know what you think if you see it, and you’re welcome for our incredible and modest contribution to making “Awakening” a must-see show in Las Vegas, not that we have to make everything about us, probably.