Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2017

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Columnist Tom Gorman: On an entertaining marriage

Tom Gorman's column runs Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (702) 259-2310.

People who have seen the top-drawer production shows "O" and "Le Reve" can't resist comparing their aquatic and aerial themes. Each show is breathtakingly staged, blending brawn and ballet with fanciful costuming and haunting music.

For fun, I asked a person from each show to comment on the competition.

"I love 'Le Reve' for its raw emotion and sensuality," Krista Monson said. She is the artistic coordinator of "O," which is produced by Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio.

"I love 'O' for its vibrant, striking colors and the power of its visual images," Paul Shihadeh said. He is the bass player for "Le Reve," which was created for Wynn Las Vegas by Franco Dragone after he left Cirque du Soleil.

It's good that Krista and Paul like the other's work. They are husband and wife.

I love this town. Several nights a week, Krista and Paul kiss goodbye at their home on the west side of town and head for work in different Strip showrooms, each filled with a gazillion gallons of water and surreal stories.

Krista's assignment is to allow "O" to gently evolve so its imaginative waters don't stagnate -- but without changing the show's essence.

She considers performers' suggestions on how to refresh the show -- changing, perhaps, just the look of a specific dive -- and, as the show's nightly artistic director, must quickly decide what immediate adjustments are needed when there's a mechanical failure on stage or a performer is injured.

Over at the Le Reve showroom, Paul is one of five musicians and two vocalists whose music -- part dramatic, part whimsical but never overpowering -- provides the soundtrack for a series of imperfect dreams that are the show's theme.

Unlike musicians who work in an orchestra pit, this group is separated into three musical pods that surround the theater-in-the-round. Paul shares his cagelike space with the drummer. The musicians take their cues not visually from a conductor with a baton, but audibly from one of the two keyboardists in another part of the theater, who also is the music director. At night's end, Krista and Paul leave the work behind. They say they don't discuss the inner workings, politics and gossip of either production company -- but do all they can to support the other's career.

Happily, they are not having to figure where to go next in their careers -- a common fret among artists -- because they're happy doing what they're doing here, and each show seems solidly entrenched on the Strip.

"It's validating that we work on two high-end shows," Krista said. "That's very liberating, to not worry about what is next for us."

You might think Las Vegas employment is not conducive to raising families, but Krista and Paul have found otherwise. Their current jobs are not only professional peaks, but allows them to sleep in their own beds at night.

Previously, they led a more itinerant lifestyle.

They grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, in families that were steeped in more conventional careers of banking and academia. By grade school, Paul was playing his bass and Krista was dancing tap, jazz and ballet.

Their paths crossed during a musical theater performance in 1993; they hooked up for real in '95 and married in '97 while each was a college instructor -- she in dance, he in bass guitar.

Since then, Krista has produced or choreographed a handful of shows that played in Edmonton or toured the United States. She choreographed 1,200 performers during ceremonies for an international athletic event, and has helped choreograph extravagantly staged trade shows in Tokyo and Paris.

As a freelance bass player, Paul's work took him on domestic and overseas music tours (frequently with singer Roger Whittaker) and landed him in studios; his session work is heard on more than 50 albums.

At times during their parallel careers, Paul would play his road gigs and, before leaving a town, make arrangements on behalf of Krista to reserve the same venue for her theater productions.

They moved to Los Angeles in 2001, hoping to find work there that would allow them to stay home and raise a family. She was hired as a dance instructor for an arts high school; he was hired as the entertainment coordinator for Princess Cruises.

But within months, Krista found herself interviewing for a job with Cirque du Soleil.

The process intrigued her because it was unlike any other interview. "They asked questions like, 'What is your passion? What is your flame? Describe your spirit. What makes your heart turn colors?' And I was wondering, 'Where is this interview going?' "

Nowhere, it turned out. But a year later, she was interviewed again for the post she now holds. She was hired, and has since adopted the very vernacular that she previously found foreign.

This is how she now describes the challenge of her job: "To nourish the human beings so they will nourish the show. It is my job to get in tune with their hearts and souls."

After moving to Las Vegas, Paul landed his job after auditioning for Benoit Jutras, who composed the music for both "O" and "Le Reve."

For the first time, they said, they were able to create a balance in their lives, thanks to the regularity of their work.

Having spent all morning at their home, I was confident I had built a good level of trust with Krista and Paul, so I saved my hardest question for last.

Come clean, I admonished them: Which production is their favorite?

It's a tie, they said -- between their 6-year-old son, Jaden, and 5-month-old Zane.

Which, I guess, speaks volumes about creative synergy.