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Full House in the Cards for ‘Iris’?

Cirque du Soleil is returning to Hollywood’s stage after making its first U.S. appearance in Los Angeles more than two decades ago. The Montreal entertainment company promises to light up the home of the Oscars.

“Iris,” the name of Cirque du Soleil’s new show taking up a 10-year residence at the Kodak Theatre, is set to play eight to 10 performances a week at the largest theater the company has ever used to stage a permanent production.

Daniel Lamarre, president and chief executive at Cirque, said the company wants to turn the show into a flagship attraction. He expects to sell about 700,000 tickets annually, ranging from $43 to $253 for VIP tickets for Saturday performances.

“The plan is to become a destination for tourists,” said Lamarre, who got the idea to bring a Cirque show to the Kodak after the troupe performed at the 2002 Academy Awards ceremony. “That is what Los Angeles is looking for and what we are looking for.”

Indeed, some local business and civic leaders are betting that “Iris” will turn Hollywood into a top destination for Southern Californians, out-of-state visitors and international tourists. The Los Angeles City Council approved a $30 million loan in 2009 to partly fund the $50 million renovation of the Kodak for the production. The loan, drawn from a federal Housing and Urban Development loan program for job-creating projects, was made to L.A. developer CIM Group, which leases the theater from the city and sought the loan after a private financing deal fell through.

But will the efforts pay off?

“I think we have a huge opportunity,” Lamarre said. “There are 18 million visitors walking in front of the Kodak every year. And if we can only capture a small percentage that, we will have a good business.”

Still, Lamarre acknowledged that Cirque has to make “Iris” irresistible to local residents and tourists alike.

“The biggest challenge is to remain relevant to the community,” Lamarre said.

CIM Group executives were not available for comment. However, Shaul Kuba, one of three CIM principals, previously told the Business Journal that Cirque would be important for the city and local economy, helping to complete the transformation of Hollywood that was boosted by the construction of Hollywood & Highland and the Kodak.

Cirque plans to sell tickets for about 2,500 of the Kodak’s 3,332 seats to give everyone a clear view of the show, Lamarre said. The show will run at least 368 times a year, and will go dark for about one month each year for the Academy Awards presentation.

During the first two years of “Iris,” Lamarre expects locals to make up about 60 percent of the audience and the remaining 40 percent to be tourists as Cirque establishes the show’s presence. After that, he expects the show will depend more on tourists and group ticket sales – corporations are already buying out entire evenings for special events.

Meanwhile, Lamarre is so set on Cirque becoming part of the fabric of Los Angeles that he even purchased a home in the area.

“I want to be seen as a citizen of Los Angeles,” he said. “I just bought a property in Beverly Hills last year because I wanted to feel the city.”

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