BARCELONA — The first strains of Pharrell Williams’ 2015 single “Freedom” play on the stage of Cirque du Soleil’s new show Messi10, in which a face-off between two groups of performers begins. As jersey-clad teammates encourage the audience to clap to the music, three soccer players dribble and spin balls on a stage that revolves and rises, while four human jugglers mirror the freestylers’ moves — only instead of balls, the acrobats toss one another in the air.
Messi10, based on the story of soccer superstar Lionel Messi, premiered Thursday (Oct. 10) in Barcelona, where Messi and his club team reign over popular culture, positioning Sony Music to score big as well. The country is also home to many Cirque fans; Spain is the Montréal-based troupe’s second-biggest market, after the United States. Following its initial run of Spanish dates, which are already sold out, Messi10 will head to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in June 2020 — 10 shows have already sold out there in the presale — and continue on a five-year world tour that will include the United States. The show, which Cirque refers to as “a super production,” is the first in the billion-dollar company’s 35-year history to have a sports theme.
Sony Music Latin Iberia chairman/CEO Afo Verde came up with the idea for Messi10 with Pinto Wahín, a former Barcelona player turned artist-producer now signed to Sony Music Latin, who composed two songs for the show. Sony will license some master recordings and compositions for the show.
“Leo is the greatest player in the history of football and a world-renowned figure,” says Verde. “It’s a show that will tour the world and is created for the world.”
While Cirque, Sony and the show’s producers declined to provide financial details, the last time the company toured the globe with a show based on a singular superstar — Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour (2011-14) — it grossed $360.9 million over 501 shows, according to Billboard Boxscore. At the time, it was the eighth-highest-grossing tour ever. Messi10 is slated to run two years longer than the Jackson show did.
“I think this is the first time we collaborated with a music company like Sony,” says Messi10 writer-director Mukhtar Omar Sharif Mukhtar, “where they have been hugely involved with the production and selection of the music.”
According to Verde, the song selection reflects Messi’s favorites and music that represents moments in his life. Messi himself has served as a consultant for the show and its soundtrack, which includes versions of songs by Shakira, The White Stripes and film score composer Hans Zimmer, as well as Argentine artists Dread Mar-I, Los Cafres and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.
Verde brought the idea to PopArt Music, the Buenos-Aires based concert and festival promoter that produced Cirque’s Sép7timo Día, inspired by the songs of the legendary Argentine rock group Soda Stereo, which sold 1.5 million tickets for its 2017-18 tour. PopArt then proposed the Messi show to Cirque.
“Instead of telling them they were crazy, we said we’d think about it,” Cirque du Soleil executive producer Charles Joron joked. Since the 1980s, the company has expanded with Las Vegas residencies, acrobatic spectacles inspired by the film Avatar and the music of The Beatles and Jackson, and a movie production deal. Since selling a majority stake to U.S. private equity firm TPG Capital and Chinese fund Fosun Industrial Holdings in 2015, Cirque has bought the Blue Man Group, the Illusionists Magic Show franchise and family entertainment company VStar. “We are always expanding our universe and this show fits that strategy,” Joron says.
“I don’t think that we could have taken the template that we have been using with Cirque music-wise for the last 30 years,” says Mukhtar Omar Sharif Mukhtar, writer and director of Messi10. “It’s a sports-inspired show, and with sports comes a different type of energy, from music that people know. We’ve had shows before where there have been two or three placements of known music, but I think this is the first time we have actually collaborated with a musical company like Sony where they have been hugely involved with the production and the selection of the music,” Mukhtar adds. Multi-Grammy-winning producer Rafael Arcaute served as Sony’s artistic director for the soundtrack. In addition, Cirque musical director Hugo Montecristo composed music for the show. “We wanted to make sure that the transitions would still have that Cirque magic — so it wouldn’t be just like a playlist of songs,” says Mukhtar.
“We are entertainment entrepreneurs,” PopArt director Matias Loizaga says of his company’s transition from local concert promoter to global theatrical producer. “That means being innovators and pushing boundaries, not just promoting artists when they come to South America.” He predicts Messi10 will be a win for all involved. “I think it will mark a before and after for Cirque du Soleil.”