Over the top: MGM Grand, Cirque du Soleil

There is a lot about the MGM Grand in Las Vegas that is over the top. Consider the lions. One weighs 100,000 pounds, stands 45 feet tall and is the biggest bronze statue in the country.

This is at the front entrance, near the south end of The Strip. Inside is the Lion Habitat, where up to six of the breathing beasts pace and eyeball people who peer above and below them. How does it happen? Through a see-through walkway tunnel, open 11 hours per day. It is a free attraction.

“The lions do not live at the Habitat,” press materials state. “They live in custom accommodations on a ranch 12 miles from the hotel.”

Only in Vegas.

The first CBS research center, for screening television pilots, is at the MGM Grand, too – but neither lions nor CBS is what I’ll remember about my most recent visit.

It isn’t often that I recommend something that can’t easily be explained, So let’s sum it up with one word, two letters: “KA.”

The newest Cirque du Soleil production, which opened at the MGM Grand in February, is one of the city’s hottest tickets. It also is technically outrageous, an odd and deep immersion of surround sound, magnificently eerie costumes and music, unparalleled special effects.

But when The Guy asked, at the end, what it was all about, he didn’t get much more than a shrug. It didn’t matter; this was the most strange and amazing production we’ve seen.

There was a plot, but it felt uncertain and unpredictable. The characters spoke a language that you can’t translate. We are not druggies, but there were moments that made us wonder whether we were tripping on something more than a Wolfgang Puck martini.

The mood gets exotic upon entering the 1,950-seat theater. Open flames light the room. Ushers, in warrior-like costumes, are both welcoming and indecipherable. Fog comes and goes, thanks to a 13,000-gallon storage tank of liquid nitrogen, mixed with hot water.

Music tones bounce from seductive to plaintive. They are both exact and chilling, thanks to the two speakers built into the headrest of every theater seat. It is the finest degree of manipulation.

The word “KA” is about the fire of spirit and the fire that burns – a word with ancient Egyptian roots. Most of the 80 performers are acrobats, martial artists and gymnasts whose work is assisted by interactive video projections and pyrotechnics.

The biggest draw, though, comes from the stage. It rolls and tilts, rotates and rocks. It is a giant ship of 1,800 pounds in stormy waters, then a slick and rocky vertical mountain that some performers will scale 50 feet to climb.

More than 100 arrows fly from bows. Human-sized sea creatures – like an 80-foot snake – slither out and around sand (350 cubic feet of granular cork, actually). Bodies seemingly bludgeoned in battle fall, stumble and disappear from sight. Some will freefall 60 feet, onto bags of air that can’t be seen.

The set turns – effortlessly – into a deep sea, with air bubbles as swimmers struggle to surge above water. Then the air bubbles magically become stars, and the action moves to the backdrop of a nighttime sky.

There is a brother and sister who compete, are separated and chased. They have friends who help protect them, and they can’t seem to shake off a bunch of bad guys.

It’s all a thriller, a tease, a mystery of technology and an unending parade of surprise. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there is a spurt of fireworks that you wouldn’t think anybody would get away with indoors.

That type of “oh wow” reaction is exactly what show creators want and deserve.

“The audience is going to say ‘Well, it’s not Cirque, it’s not dance and it’s not theater,’ “ predicted choreographer Jacques Heim, in press materials. “And if you ask them what it is, they’re going to say, ‘I don’t really know. It’s impossible to describe.”

“I think that people won’t really realize what they’re looking at, and it’s a pretty interesting thing if you can achieve that,” added Jaque Paquin, acrobatic equipment and rigging designer.

Mission accomplished.

To order tickets for “KA,” go to www.ka.com or call (877) 264-1844. Tickets are $99 to $150; the show lasts a little less than two hours. There is no end date listed for this show’s run.

For more about all Cirque du Soleil shows, go to www.cirquedusoleil.com or call (702) 352-0200. The Canadian-based company started as a street theater group in the 1980s; the name means “Circus of the Sun.”

Outside of Vegas, your best chances for seeing one of the 11 permanent or touring shows will be in Orlando or St. Petersburg, Fla., especially before the end of December.

For more about the MGM Grand, go to www.mgmgrand.com or call (800) 929-1111.