VStar Buys Cirque Productions
23–year-old Cirque Dreams shows added to VStar’s family-friendly portfolio
- by Brad Weissberg
- Published: January 9, 2017
Cirque Dreams Holidaze
VStar Entertainment Group (VStar), which currently licenses the Sesame Street Live! brand and other family-friendly shows such as Paw Patrol Live! and owns Discover the Dinosaurs Unleashed, has acquired South Florida-based Cirque Productions, which produces the Cirque Dreams brand of colorful, high-flying family-oriented stage shows.
Neil Goldberg and the cast of Cirque Dreams Holidaze
Neil Goldberg, Broadway director and Cirque Productions founder, will continue leading the Cirque Dreams brand as Cirque Dreams president for VStar. “I am very much looking forward to collaborating with the VStar team,” said Goldberg. “I am a creative force to be reckoned with and I think with VStar support and resources, the Cirque Dreams brand will expand in great ways.”
“We welcome Neil Goldberg and the entire Cirque Productions team to the VStar family,” said Eric Grilly, CEO, VStar Entertainment Group. “Neil has been the visionary behind the Cirque Dreams shows for more than 20 years and we are incredibly lucky to have his collaborative spirit and creative leadership at VStar.”
Goldberg founded Cirque Productions in 1993. His shows have played at over 450 theaters and performing arts centers and Cirque Dreams has partnerships that have put the brand on Norwegian Cruise Lines and in Gaylord Hotels. They’ve performed shows internationally through Armed Forces Entertainment.
Cirque Dreams is currently running two tours of their holiday-themed Cirque Dreams Holidaze and its Broadway-created Cirque Jungle Fantasy. Cirque Dreams also has two Norwegian Cruise Lines shows, Cirque Dreams & Dinner, currently playing. Other Cirque Dreams titles include Cirque Dreams Rocks; Cirque Dreams Unwrapped and Cirque Dreams Revealed. The most popular show, Holidaze, is in its 10th year and has sold over 115,000 tickets, grossing over $6 million. Tickets to a Cirque Dreams show range from $25-$95
VStar and Goldberg were put together by private equity firm AUA. “VStar was exploring family-themed shows and, for the last five years, I have been looking for a strategic partner that could help grow the brand and help with the next chapter of creative desires and inclinations I have had,” said Goldberg. “I want to do more on Broadway and step out of just the Cirque-style shows. This will allow me to do that.”
Cirque Dreams Holidaze
Goldberg said he warmed up to the idea of being acquired by VStar almost immediately because the two companies share the same philosophy of quality, affordable family entertainment.
“I was fascinated,” he said. “I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire career so the idea of that aspect changing took a little bit of getting used to, but we started dating, got engaged and now we’re married. I’m very happy that Cirque Dreams is a VStar company. VStar has a really good focus and Eric has great knowledge and leadership skills.”
“As we looked at where we wanted to take the company and the thesis behind AUA’s strategy for VStar, we realized the Cirque Dreams brand would add scale to our business, add diversity to our business and diversity from a venue perspective,” said Grilly.
Grilly said that one of the things that Cirque Dreams brings to the table is its broad demographic appeal. “VStar indexes very high in pre-school,” he said. “In our Dinosaur shows, there is not an adult walking around without a child. If you look at Cirque Dreams Holidaze, there are kids and adults without kids; the show appeals beyond just the children demographic.”
Grilly also pointed out that most of the VStar shows perform between January and May and Cirque Dreams performs year-round with an emphasis on the end of the year with the Holidaze show. “This will boost our fourth quarter performance tremendously,” he said.
Grilly was also excited by the fact that adding the Cirque Dreams brand to its portfolio will now allow VStar to get into more performing arts centers, ballrooms, casinos, hotels and resorts and cruise ships.
“We bring capital and resources that will take the Cirque Dreams brand to the next level,” he said. “Our operation infrastructure and media-buying will allow Neil to leverage that infrastructure to launch new inventory.”
Acquisition talks started a year ago and the deal closed in December. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy
Cirque Dreams performed 500 shows in 2016 with five units on tour. “These are million-dollar productions,” said Goldberg. An average Cirque Dreams show has 25 people in each cast. Sometimes it includes singers and live music, other shows use prerecorded tracks. The original music is written by Jill Winters.
Goldberg directs all of the shows. He has a 25,000 sq.-ft. studio in Pompano Beach, Fla., Dream Studios, of which 10,000 sq.-ft. is devoted to rehearsal space for the shows and the rest is used to design and manufacture all the costumes and sets. He said a typical show takes four to six months to put together.
“These are complex shows,” said Goldberg. “Some performers have been perfecting their craft for sometimes as long as 15 years before they get on stage. The rigging is complex as well; we use no safety wires. Our aerial rigger comes from Moscow Circus. We use all customized motors and customized rigging for the aerial sequences.”
Cirque Dreams Holidaze travels in one 54-ft. tractor-trailer. “We never use more than two trucks,” Goldberg boasted. “It fascinates my customers that this all comes out of one truck.”
Goldberg said one of the things that VStar will bring is opportunities to grow the brand, especially internationally. “I’ve never really had the time to respond to all the international requests I’ve had for the shows and now, with VStar’s resources, we’ll get to all the places I couldn’t go alone.”
Grilly said that he hopes to add two new shows a year to the VStar portfolio. “We have a nice balance between exhibition and theatrical and a nice mix between licensed and organically created shows,” he said. “We rebranded VStar last September and it’s turned into a transformational year for us.”
The current Sesame Street Live! tour, produced by VStar, will close in July 2017. Sesame Workshop has moved that license to Feld Enterainment. VStar will continue to have a working relationship with Sesame Workshop even after the VStar-produced touring show concludes its run.VStar will continue to produce shows for Sesame Workshop for Beaches resorts, Sea World theme parks, Sesame Place in Middletown Township, Pa., and, most significantly, on the USO tour. VStar also continues as a preferred costume provider.
“The Paw Patrol! tour will visit 90 cities over the next 65 weeks and our three dinosaur shows will occupy over 70,000 sq.-ft., visit 90 cities, do well over 1,000 performances and provide education, amusement and retail," Grilly said. "There’s been pretty significant growth for us this year. We’re also the tour operator for USA Gymnastics tour.”
Grilly is employing a ‘buy-build-partner’ formula. “I don’t think Cirque Dreams will be the last property we acquire. We want to continue acquiring shows, creating shows and partnering when we can; our relationship with Nickelodeon is opening up doors with other companies that want to partner with us.”
Headquartered in Minneapolis, VStar Entertainment Group was founded in 2015 following the acquisition of VEE Corporation by Blue Star Media.
Interviewed for this story: Eric Grilly, (612) 852-2323; Neil Goldberg, (954) 975-9225, ext. 205
- by Brad Weissberg
- Published: January 9, 2017