The success of Cirque du Soleil's "Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities" is that it doesn't have to play to the back of a ginormous house.
This smaller, more intimate production is mounted on a thrust stage under a cavernous tent erected in the parking lot across the street from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Playing there through Jan. 29, this configuration puts the audience up close and heightens the wow factor of all the acrobatic derring-do of the human circus.
Even the stage is placed lower than at a typical Cirque show so that many of the acts are at eye level. Cirque shows in the past few years have played places such as Sunrise's BB&T Center ("Toruk – The First Flight" this past February and "Varekai" in 2015), where different seating configurations can hold anywhere between 15,000 to 22,000 people in the audience. By contract, the tent for "Kurios" has 2,600 seats. No, this isn't Cirque unplugged, but it's the closest thing to it. The whole franchise could benefit from such a reimagining. Bigger is not always better.
Here's a timeline of how the show went for me.
8 p.m. It's a soft start with the house lights still up on the steampunk set. A few characters, these built-from-scraps robots that the show's program calls the Kurios, meander around the stage sweeping, tinkering and getting things ready.
8:05 p.m. The Seeker, the so-called "master of the house" who will set the plot into motion, scurries around. Thank goodness the show's creator, Michel Laprise, had previously told me the gist of his script: "It's the story of a man who builds a machine to travel to a different dimension. The machine malfunctions and brings people from another dimension to his world." As with all Cirque du Soleil shows, it's best to just let go of all that and let the visuals just wash over you.
8:10 p.m. The Mentalist, a guy wearing atop his head a big, clear globe with a bunch of gears inside, steps off the stage and walks up the aisle. He pats me on the head. I don't know quite how to take this.
8:15 p.m. Three scientists with pointy hairdos right out of Alfafa from "The Little Rascals" walk around the edge of the stage. Every once in a while, they dart into the audience, briskly walking up the aisles and interacting with the delighted audience. At one point, they walk up to me, and one of them pokes my cell phone. The show is set in the second half of the 19th century, so I kind of had that one coming, what with my 21st century technology right up in their faces.
8:20 p.m. I think the show seems to be gathering steam (pun intended) as more characters, all in pseudo-Victorian dress, fill up the stage. I find out later they are the Curiosistanians, a group of imaginary inhabitants that the Seeker has accidentally brought into his world (see 8:05).
8:22 p.m. The Comic, a diminutive and elegantly dressed man who reminds me of the Emcee in "Cabaret," makes some announcements about staying out of the aisles during the show and shutting off our cell phones. I feel all the eyes in the row behind me burning a hole into my soul.
8:24 p.m. Lights dim, and the show starts. Another group — I think they are musicians — walk through the middle aisle in the audience, some with wooden trains on their heads.
8:27 p.m. OK, I get it. We're in a train station. I think. There's a lot of choreography and some juggling. It's all very impressive, if not a tad confusing. Is this the dimension-hopping machine?
8:32 p.m. Am I the only one seeing vague references to "Wicked" and "Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk"? Probably. I nudge my husband, Gary, and whisper as much in his ear. He gives me a bless-your-heart glance and returns his gaze to the stage.
8:33 p.m. Mini Lili, a character played by Antanina Satsura, makes her first big appearance (pun intended). Satsura is 3 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 50 pounds. Whenever she's onstage, Gary's eyes sparkle. It's probably not relevant, but Gary is an avid doll collector.
8:35 p.m. The first acrobatic act, the Russian Cradle Duo, takes center stage. A man and a woman, playing a circus strongman and a porcelain doll (Gary's going to lose it), are in a musical box. (Seriously, I've already lost the plot.) The strongman turns into a human trapeze and swings the woman up in the air where she does all sorts of somersaults. We're off to a strong start.
8:41 p.m. The aerial-bicyclist act comes on. Suspended in midair, she strikes all sorts of poses, most of them showing off her extremely limber body, holding on to the bike by a foot or an arm. Her big finish is to ride the bike around the tent, upside down and a good 20 to 30 feet off the ground.
8:45 p.m. Mini Lili is back. I don't know why. I have no idea what is going on. But we're having a blast.
8:46 p.m. The Comic comes back on to do a great bit with an invisible circus act, which is all well choreographed and timed to the nth degree with special effects. "This was the best show you never saw," he says. Yup, true dat.
8:52 p.m. A big, mechanical hand rolls out onstage. On top of it, four acrobats dressed as lizards — no, wait, eels — start doing all these balance and contortion moves while a violinist and a cellist play on elevated stands above them.
9 p.m. All right, I'm not sure how to describe this bit. There's a dinner party going on. Then, the chandelier above the dinner table rises about 20 feet. Apparently, one of the guests has telekinetic powers. Then, another guest decides to go up and get the chandelier. He does this by precariously balancing chairs atop one another one at a time in a stunning display. Just when he's almost within reach, farther up at the top of the tent is revealed another dinner party, a mirror image but upside down. One of those guests stacks chairs going downward. They compete as they close in on the chandelier suspended between them, sometimes spinning on the chairs with only one hand. The audience goes crazy.
9:11 p.m. I have no idea where we are in the story, but who cares? It's like a Fellini film on acid. A flying machine circles the rim of center stage. The aviator gets out and starts balancing on a teetering and tottering tower he makes of cylinders and planks. Then, as if that weren't enough, the platform he's on begins to rise and swing through the air. The audience goes nuts.
9:21 p.m. Intermission.
9:47 p.m. The show starts again with two men dressed as sharks "swimming" by and six guys in raincoats running around doing acrobatics. Are we underwater? What's going on? Gary leans over and says, "It's raining men."
9:53 p.m. The raincoats come off, and the guys flip onto a large trampoline net that fills the entire stage. The Acro Net act starts getting its bounce on in a big way, higher and higher until they reach a rope ladder at the top of the tent. The audience loses its collective mind.
10:01 p.m. The Comic is back for a little audience participation. He brings a woman onstage and tries to seduce her, in a very G-rated way. But his romance is interrupted by his household pets, a parrot, a cat and a Tyrannosaurus rex.
10:08 p.m. Two Tweedledee and Tweedledum kind of characters, who have been on the periphery here and there all night long, take the stage. Having stripped down to ab-revealing costumes, they do an aerial strap act that send them soaring above the gobsmacked crowd.
10:10 p.m. A guy takes out his pocket watches, which turn out to be yo-yos, and begins twirling and spinning them like crazy. When the yo-yos light up, I am kind of reminded of Pink Floyd night at a planetarium. It's that trippy.
10:19 p.m. Theater of the Hands comes on. I've heard about this before. This guy uses his fingers to tell a sort of story (involving much break dancing). The whole thing is projected onto a zeppelin floating above the center ring that serves as a screen. It's imaginative and engrossing.
10:25 p.m. Acrobats — two women and nine men — burst onto the stage for a whip-snap sequence of high-flying tumbling, human-pyramid balancing and somersault crisscrossing in the air three-people high.
10:33 p.m. The Seeker descends from the top of the tent. Where has he been? He missed a heck of a show.
10:38 p.m. After three curtain calls, it's all over.
"Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities" runs through Jan. 29 at Hard Rock Stadium, 347 Don Shula Drive, in Miami Gardens. Showtimes vary. Tickets cost $39-$275 (premium VIP Package includes a backstage visit before the show, a cocktail party before and during intermission, private restrooms and a meet and greet after the show). To order, call 877-924-7783 or go to CirqueDuSoleil.com/Kurios.