Writing about Cirque du Soleil is a bit like writing about the latest Adam Sandler movie: it doesn’t really matter what you say. The people who were always going to see it will go regardless of what you say. The people who were never going to see it are disappointed if you recognize its appeal. And so I default to the obvious: Cirque du Soleil’s “Toruk—The First Flight” is everything you’d reasonably expect from a Cirque du Soleil show based on James Cameron’s “Avatar.”
Aimed squarely at children of all ages, “Toruk” is, like its alien subjects, vaguely sexless, an amusing irony given that the city this company is most closely associated with has a slogan that not-so-subtly advocates for indiscretionary behavior. The show’s leading trio would have hardly needed to do anything more lascivious than hold hands to motivate the audience to truly care about their fates. Sadly, a cuddle puddle is the closest thing we get to even a Disneyfied romance.
“Toruk” is propelled by the winds of good fortune, the kind you might more expect from affluent white kids as opposed to tribal blue ones. Every time the gang hits any kind of obstacle, fate intervenes on their behalf like dad’s connection to the police department or mom’s checkbook. The stakes here are virtually nonexistent even if you buy the production’s spandex-thin premise.
This might be the point where a critic would say “which is a shame because…” However, in reality it’s not a shame. It might be if anyone came to Cirque du Soleil for incisive social commentary. But since they don’t, it was quite easy to enjoy feats of athleticism that were to the Olympics what the NBA All-Star Game is to the playoffs.
Naturally the production values are topnotch though occasionally—you guessed it—a bit excessive. Highlights include: a seemingly self-propelled octopus-turtle hybrid (and possible offspring of Morla the Ancient One), a dragon (not voiced by Tracy Letts though formidable nevertheless) and an array of full-arena, 3D projections. Plus there’s enough climbing, spinning and flipping to make you pine for your rough-and-tumble childhood while seriously reevaluating your current workout regimen.
Could be better, could be worse. But in the end it is exactly what it is. (Kevin Greene)
Cirque du Soleil at United Center, 1901 West Madison, cirquedusoleil.com. Currently on tour.