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Kats: Franco Dragone, visionary behind Mystère, 'O,' had 'incalculable effect' on Las Vegas

Courtesy, Cirque du Soleil

It’s been a difficult three days for many people in Las Vegas’ entertainment industry since learning about the death of Franco Dragone. He was 69.

For many years, Dragone’s artistic direction helped Cirque du Soleil become an international phenomenon and reshape the world of entertainment on the Las Vegas Strip.  

As director, he brought the first Cirque show, “Mystère,” to Treasure Island in 1993. That was followed by “O” five years later at Bellagio. The success of those shows ushered in many more Cirque productions, six of which still grace the Strip. 

Las Vegas Review-Journal entertainment writer John Katsilometes wrote of Dragone’s death: “Cirque became the first company to present, over multiple shows, a blend of dance, circus acrobatics and clown-delivered comedy in a theater setting.” 

Katsilometes joins State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann, along with Jerry Nadal, who worked at Cirque for 21 years, where he rose to the position of senior vice president. He’s now the COO of Enchant, after serving almost three years as the head of Nevada Public Radio. 

“Watching him go through the creative process and his amazing respect for the artists, the artists in particular, I mean, there were designers and creators all around him, and they had a great collaboration,” Nadal said. “But he really valued and treasured the artists. And what I loved was the whole idea that he took circus and circus arts and kind of turned it on its head.”

Dragone had an “incalculable effect” on Las Vegas, said Katsilometes. When the reporter arrived in Las Vegas in 1996, he was a sports writer, but was assigned to cover Mystère for its Olympic athletes. 

“I looked at it through that prism and I'll tell you, I still say I've never seen anything like it. I was blown away by what they put on stage,” he said. 

Dragone was born in post-war Italy, and lived in Belgium and Montreal. Nadal said the beauty of the shows was their ability to attract global audiences. 

“There was something for everybody in there, you didn't have to sit down and understand it,” he said. “He really took these concepts and ran with them. And there were a lot of people that wanted his artistic eye and his artistic vision.”

His legacy exists in his shows, said Katsilometes, especially Mystère which will soon break the record for most shows ever performed by a single production. “He will be [known as] one of the original architects of Cirque du Soleil, no question about it.”

We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Franco Dragone. Our hearts go out to his friends, family, and the entire Dragone organization. Franco was an industry icon. Responsible for some of our most successful productions including Nouvelle Expérience, Alegría, Mystère, “O,” and La Nouba, he has contributed invaluably to the success of Cirque du Soleil. His passing is a loss not only for his family, but for the entire industry. Out of respect, tonight’s performances of Mystère and “O” in Las Vegas will be dedicated to his life’s work.

- Cirque du Soleil

John Katsilometes, entertainment columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal; Jerry Nadal, chief operating officer, Enchant

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Dave Berns, now a producer for State of Nevada, recently returned to KNPR after having previously worked for the station from 2005 to 2009.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the online editor for Nevada Public Radio. She curates content on, our weekly newsletter and social media for Nevada Public Radio and Desert Companion.