The circus pros at Cirque du Soleil in Montreal wanted to add some “fur and feathers” to their theatrical magic and think they have found it with the acquisition of Fridley-based VStar Entertainment Group.
VStar produces children’s stage shows, such as “Sesame Street Live,” “PAW Patrol Live,” “Bubble Guppies Live” and “Dragon Tales.” Cirque du Soleil CEO Daniel Lamarre said when announcing the deal that the company’s goal was to diversify its offerings, especially age-wise.
The acquisition also includes VStar’s Florida subsidiary Cirque Dreams, which will be folded into the Cirque du Soleil operation. Terms of the deal closed last week were not disclosed.
The rest of VStar’s operations will be run as an independent division and will stay in Minnesota, said VStar CEO Eric Grilly on Wednesday.
Cirque is best known for highly creative shows featuring dramatic human acrobatics, live music and elaborate costumes. With 4,000 employees, Cirque du Soleil is substantially larger than VStar.
Unlike Cirque du Soleil, “we do fur and feathers,” Grilly said. There are no plans to change the operation’s focus on the children’s theater format.
It made sense, though, to merge the Cirque Dreams division VStar acquired last year with the main Montreal operation, he said.
The plan is to grow VStar, Lamarre said last week. On that note, Grilly said, there will be another announcement later this summer, but he could not discuss it.
“My charge under Cirque du Soleil is to continue to grow VStar as a kid and family-focused platform. With the [acquisition], we just have a different level of resources that will be available to us,” Grilly said.
Cirque du Soleil, a global company with 34 years of operation, gives VStar access to capital and investment that would not be available to it as a free-standing company.
“Their expertise in the live entertainment industry is unparalleled and it is an honor to join forces with their organization,” Grilly said.
The company last fall moved into a new 105,000-square-foot facility in Fridley to give it more space to make the costumes and sets used in the stage shows and develop more scripts. VStar has 242 employees — 135 in Minnesota — and besides the traveling children’s musicals, it produces exhibits, cruise ship shows and outdoor events.
VStar grew from Vee Corp., founded in 1980 by the late Vince Egan, whose first show was “Sesame Street Live.” In 2015, New York-based AUA Private Equity Partners bought Vee and merged it with Blue Star Media, which produced the Discover the Dinosaurs exhibits. AUA had bought Blue Star the year before.
Today, VStar’s children- and family-focused shows feature brands and characters from Nickelodeon and Spin Master touring four continents with two “PAW Patrol Live” shows and a “Bubble Guppies Live” production. Last year, the “PAW Patrol Live! Race to the Rescue”show toured 250 cities in 18 countries.
Cirque officials noted that during 38 years, VStar and its predecessors built an impressive record, conducting 39,000 performances in 40 countries and averaging 2 million guests a year.
Lamarre was in Fridley last week to tell employees about the deal.
“VStar Entertainment Group has a proven track record and recognized expertise in small theatrical production, which complements Cirque du Soleil’s expertise in large-scale production and global touring,” Lamarre said. “We firmly believe the knowledge transfer will help us develop our own capabilities in this type of entertainment” and contribute to Cirque’s growth.
Cirque’s VStar acquisition follows on the heels of its recent purchase and integration of Blue Man Group. The two deals are not likely to be Cirque’s last.
Lamarre said last week that circus arts “will always be at the core of our creative offerings.” But he noted that “we continue to look for ways to expand and diversify our portfolio with new forms of entertainment and new brands.”