Paw Patrol Live is among the kids shows that Cirque du Soleil purchased when it bought VStar.

Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group’s acquisition of Minnesota-based VStar Entertainment, which includes Paw Patrol Live! and subsidiary Cirque Dreams, is just the latest in a global growth spurt for the Montreal-based firm.

For VStar, it means expanded opportunities for a firm that has been on its own growth trajectory for several years, since investment group AUA bought the original Blue Star Group in 2014 and VEE Corp. in March 2015.

Current VStar CEO Eric Grilly came on board 29 months ago and has since seen VStar acquire the rights to Nicklodeon as a touring partner and add Neil Goldberg’s Cirque Dreams in December 2016 under his watch.

“We were a rocketship for the last 24 months, between seven Paw Patrol shows on four continents and a very exciting project we will be announcing in the next 60 days,” Grilly said. Nickelodeon is also the source for Bubble Guppies Live, which toured for 10 weeks in 35 cities.

Cirque du Soleil “O” is among the company's Vegas productions. (Courtesy Justine Lord-Dufour)

Cirque du Soleil, founded in 1984, has also been on an upward trajectory since being bought by a consortium headed by U.S. investment firm TPG in 2016. Cirque bought Blue Man Group in 2017 before the VStar deal, announced July 5.

Besides VStar, Paw Patrol and Cirque Dreams, “we have a few new projects in development,” said Finn Taylor, senior vice president of touring shows for Cirque du Soleil. For the Montreal company, the addition of VStar brings a new venue type and a new audience type — kids and families — to the fold.

Grilly said that for VStar, the benefits of being acquired by CDS are:
° Access to a global platform. “We were starting to build one. We’ve played in 40 countries. But Cirque has much more than that.”
° Access to more capital. “Given the size of our business, we were constrained about the number and type of shows we can do.”
° “Lastly, thinking about different places the business could have landed, this is a great outcome for the employees to be part of a strategic-oriented entertainment company.

VStar headquarters remains in Minneapolis for now, and employees are being added, not laid off, Grilly said.

Taylor compared it to Blue Man Group, which remains in New York, with its own DNA and audience. To customers, it’s still Blue Man Group, Taylor said. It’s not even advertised as “presented by Cirque du Soleil.”

“We don’t plan to do anything but help support them grow the company,” Taylor said. “Obviously, we have a great network of partners and promoters around the world. We will help them spread Cirque Dreams.”

Cirque Dreams is a theatrical production for theaters and residencies.

It is also advantageous that VStar plays proscenium theaters and Broadway houses; Cirque du Soleil plays arenas and big tops. “It’s a different audience, a different product. We plan to help them find new cities, venues and partners to work with,” Taylor said.

VStar also brings new partners to Cirque du Soleil, such as Norwegian Cruise Lines and Gaylord Hotels, which support Cirque Dreams.

“What Cirque acquired is a unique set of capabilities,” Grilly said. “We just moved into a 104,000-square-foot facility here in Minneapolis. Our costume shop will continue.

“We’re in the fur-and-feather business. It’s a very different type of costume art than Cirque du Soleil creates in Montreal and Las Vegas.”

As to what it means to venue managers, both emphasized it’s about more content for an expanded venue type and demographic.

Editor’s note: The goals behind this acquisition and strategic plans, as well as the thought process for investment groups now deeply imbedded in live entertainment, will be covered in depth in the August VenuesNow magazine.