Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Neil Goldberg was incredibly famous in corporate America … and virtually unknown to the public at large. He wasn’t a CEO or banker or lawyer; he specialized in parties. Huge, lavish soirees that were common … at least until the Dot-Com bubble burst and belt-tightening became the order of the day.
Goldberg still stages huge events for private clients, but for more than a decade he has become more famous as the man behind Cirque Dreams, a theatrical enterprise that puts on lavish spectacles in shows across the globe. His signature Christmas show, Holidaze, plays at the Winspear through Sunday.
The journey from party planner to impresario isn’t such a big one — especially not considering where he started. Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family, Goldberg stood out from an early age. Rather than showing an interest in becoming a physician or businessman like his brothers, Neil was the gay one who wanted to be a scenic designer. He did that for years, from window designs to stage productions. A theatrical spirit is in his blood.
“I’ve loved musical theater since I was 6,” says Goldberg during a break from rehearsals at the Winspear. “I was doing these private events, when I toured Europe in 1989. That was the first time I saw these German cabarets and colorful circuses [most Americans] didn’t know about.” Goldberg began to incorporate elements of those shows into his parties.
“Then one day, someone handed me a business card and it said ‘Bally’s’,” he explains. Within a few days, he was talking to big wigs at the resort; within a few months, he was mounting a show in Atlantic City; a short time after that, he was appearing on The Today Show.
“We started with just three of us,” he says. “We now have 125 full-time employees.”
His first touring production, Cirque Ingenue, has strong Texas ties — he teched it at Texas A&M and it was launched by Dallas Summer Musicals. Now he’s back full-circle, appearing again in Dallas with Holidaze.
What sets Goldberg’s version of the circus apart from Cirque du Soleil? That’s easy, he says.
“With Cirque du Soleil, you’re usually trying to figure out the story — you might not get it. Our show, anyone can relate to. You put people in rollerskates being a train, people get it,” he says. “Also, there’s a lot of beefcake in our show.”
So it is with Billy Jackson, who has been with Holidaze since the first show in 2009. In this incarnation, he’s playing a reindeer in a sexy, furry-lined unitard (pictured far right). Jackson’s specialty? Jump roping.
“I’ve been a competitive jump roper for 17 years,” he says. Who knew?
The Shreveport native says that’s kind of the point. He was reared on dance and skipping rope, achieving national prominence in the jump rope circuit, as did most of his colleague in the show. “The show really combines dance with athletics,” he says … and allows him to expose new audiences to his skill.
Goldberg himself is always on the lookout for new acts and skills to incorporate into one of his productions; when asked where he calls home, he responds almost without sarcasm, “I live on a plane.” But in fact, he and his partner of nearly 16 years have a house in Fort Myers, Fla.
And Goldberg will continue to travel as he readies a new show in San Francisco (opening next summer) and even goes a step further: He’s working on a formal book-musical based on his production Jungle Fantasy, with plans to open on Broadway.
Hey, mom and dad may have raised an eyebrow when he skipped medical school, but having a son on Broadway is bound to make any parent proud.
Cirque Dreams: Holidaze plays now through Dec. 23 at the Winspear Opera House. For ticket information,visit ATTPAC.org.