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October 31, 2014

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Mystere’ hysteria: Michigan man has seen show 100 times — and counting

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Courtesy Photo

John Hunt of Belleville, Mich. stands with some of his favorite “Mystere” cast members, from left,:Marek Haczkiewicz, Paulo Lorador, Marco Lorador, Anna Zlatkova, Zdzislaw Pelkaat at Treasure Island on Sunday, minutes before taking in his 100th performance of the production.

Mystere

Chinese Pole artists perform during Cirque du Soleil's Launch slideshow »

John Hunt slides into his row at Mystere Theater, something he has done 99 times before. On this night, No. 100, he has an aisle seat in Row D, just a few feet from the lip of the rounded stage.

Hunt is standing, smiling, talking of his favorite show. His wife of 37 years, Toni, is now seated and trains her ear on the conversation.

Hunt is explaining his loyalty to this particular Cirque du Soleil show. He says, “My wife here, she thinks I need a … what’s the word?”

“Intervention!” Toni calls out.

“Yes,” says Hunt, who seems an agreeable sort. “An intervention.”

But not tonight.

Hunt is the guest of honor at his 100th performance of “Mystere.” He has a few happy members of his family with him. There’s Toni, daughters Erin and Meghan, grandson Ian, granddaughter Anna and his son-in-law Brent.

As it happens, Erin and Brent renewed their wedding vows earlier in the day at Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel.

“We’ve had quite a day,” Hunt says, reinforcing what is apparent.

Hunt watched his first performance of “Mystere” in the summer of 1994. Obviously, he loved the show, enough that he took in multiple appearances during his visits to Las Vegas over the years, often seeing two performances a night. As the number of shows moved into the 50s, then 60s, he began keeping careful track of how many he’d attended.

Cirque officials say if there is a person who has seen a Cirque show in Las Vegas more frequently than Hunt has seen “Mystere,” they are not aware of it. A woman in Japan reportedly attended 300 performances of the now-closed “Zed” at Tokyo’s Disney Resort.

Upon hearing that, Hunt says, “Well, I’ll bet she didn’t have to travel 2,000 miles to see that show.”

Not bloody likely!

Hunt travels to Las Vegas with such frequency because of his career in public safety. He is director of Next Generation 9-1-1 Service, the federal government’s initiative to improve emergency communications in a country filled with ever-advancing technology. Hunt is in Las Vegas for meetings as many as six times a year.

He is asked why “Mystere” has become his favorite? There are dozens of great shows here, and Cirque presents six other productions on the Strip (seven if you count “Michael Jackson One” that opens at Mandalay Bay this year).

“It has everything,” he says quickly, evidently expecting the question. “It has wonderful acrobatics and dancing. The music is great. It’s a beautiful show and a beautiful experience, every time.”

Hunt then pauses and adds, “To me, this is like having season tickets to a football team.”

Except, the home team wins every game by the exact same score, right?

“I don’t see it that way,” he says. “It feels like a new experience every time.”

Hunt has seen the other Cirque shows, of course, and Blue Man Group and “Le Reve,” each of which he’s seen once. He has seen “Love” at Mirage a handful of times and only recently caught “Ka” at MGM Grand for the first time. He was particularly dazzled by that show’s staging.

He says he is not particularly fond of “Zumanity” at New York-New York (the adult content is a little excessive) and “Believe” at Luxor, which has the least amount of Cirque influence of any show bearing the company’s name. But he has seen “O” at Bellagio 20 times.

“I am a Cirque addict,” he says.

Hunt was once given a backstage tour of the inner workings of “Mystere” by the performer who originated the “Big Baby” character, Francois Dupuis. Dupuis died in October after performing in more than 8,600 “Mystere” shows.

“I remember him walking out on the plank with me,” Hunt says, referring to the prop high over the production on stage right, from where the baby addresses the audience. “He said he never walked out there when the house lights were up. He was afraid of heights. He only felt comfortable up there when it was dark.”

Hunt has not asked for free tickets to the show during his 99 prior visits, though Cirque did comp his family for No. 100. Asked how much he has spent over the years on show tickets (he usually attends alone), his wife again cut in with a laugh and a comment, “We don’t talk about that!” But if the median price is $80, the total is a tidy eight grand.

Worth every cent, too, judging from Hunt’s reaction to his 100th show. Throughout the performance, he glanced down the aisle at his family, paying close attention to his grandkids, who had never seen the show. Seated at his granddad’s right, Ian’s head bobbed with the music, and he pointed skyward at the Korean Plank performers vaulting high above the stage and the trapeze act taken from “Zed” that now helps close the show.

At the end, as the performers smiled and waved into the crowd, Hunt stood and applauded for the 100th time.

Then he turned around, eyes dancing and a smile spread across his face, and said, “Wasn’t that great?”

After watching this show with its greatest fan, no answer is necessary.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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