Cirque du Soleil: A Beatles Love-In From Las Vegas to Eternity By JOHN ROCKWELL

Cirque du Soleil: A Beatles Love-In From Las Vegas to Eternity

LAS VEGAS, July 8 — The gala premiere of “Love,” Cirque du Soleil’s new Beatles show at the Mirage Hotel, has come and gone, and the extravaganza has now settled into the glitzily refurbished theater in which Siegfried and Roy and their pets disported themselves for 13 years. The Beatles have now joined Celine Dion, the ghost of Frank Sinatra, Rubens from the Hermitage and four other Cirque shows playing along the Strip as yet another competing attraction in the land of slot machines and neon flash.

“Love” tells us many things — about the evolution of the Beatles in the pantheon of cultural icons, about the clashing contentions of the preservationists and the evolutionists among Beatles fans, and perhaps above all, about the continuing transformation of the Cirque du Soleil format.

That format has been successful beyond what must have been the dizziest dreams of the Québécois street performers who founded this once-humble organization in 1984. Right now there are seven touring shows perambulating around the world, including “Corteo,” which closed recently on Randalls Island in New York, plus one in Orlando, Fla., and the five here.

The first Las Vegas Cirque show, “Mystère,” opened in 1993, to be followed by “O,” KÀ “Zumanity,” “KÀ” and now “Love.” None have ever closed; they come as close to eternality as live show business has yet achieved. Even during the sweltering summer, when the average daytime temperature is well above 100 and overall attendance in Las Vegas drops sharply, the 2,000-seat “Love” theater looked full at the early show on Thursday, and on Friday the similarly scaled “KÀ” theater and the relatively modest 1,260-seat “cabaret” for “Zumanity” seemed nearly full.

“Love” has already been blessed in every conceivable way by the surviving Beatles. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and nearly every extant widow and ex-wife and child and close collaborator (Ravi Shankar!) were on hand for the gala opening on June 30. Apple, the Beatles organization, licensed the songs to the Cirque, and George Martin, the Beatles producer, and his son Giles reknitted and remixed those songs into the aural tapestry on display at the Mirage.

Unsurprisingly, the message of “Love” is that it’s all you need. The music pouring forth from the 4,000 speakers — or is it 6,000? or 12,000? Statistics fall from Cirque-land like the confetti of little white apples and red-purple petals that flutter down from the ceiling — sounds great, if crystalline grandiosity counts as great.

I missed the effect of individual words emitted from speakers in my own individual, painfully narrow seat, but I’m sure they were there.

The show has been conceived by the core Cirque creative team. The wonderfully named Guy Laliberté, who founded the troupe and still runs the Cirque operation, is listed as “show concept creator” along with the wonderfully named Dominic Champagne, the director and writer. Mr. Champagne is also responsible for the egregious erotic parody, “Zumanity.”

What they have created with “Love” is less a musical or a concert than a 90-minute visually live rock-video fantasy. (All Cirque shows here last 90 minutes on the nose, to fit in two performances a night.) It’s visually live because the music is, of course, recorded.

Circus flash is minimized in favor of mimes and dancers and actors and ornate costumes and a dizzying onslaught of props — including, too predictably, two Volkswagen Beetles. Perhaps the paucity of circus excitement accounted for what seemed like a slightly muted response on Thursday. Or perhaps the audience was just blitzed with the scenic barrage.

The circus bits include daredevil in-line skaters zipping up, down and over half-pipelike structures; some trampolinists; and innumerable rope climbers, bungee jumpers and aerialists. They serve mostly to fill the huge vertical space and compete with the giant projections. There is a lot of dancing, or mass posing, since no one dancer has interesting moves or could stand out in the welter of activity. Two choreographers are credited, but three more apparently had a hand in the proceedings. The stage images are always ingenious and sometimes beautiful. But like a rock video, they constrain a listener’s own imagination, too often in the service of Cirque clichés.

In the projections, there are Beatles silhouettes and documentary film and, at the end, big portraits of the lads. But this is ultimately a Cirque show more than a Beatles show. Nothing against mimes; I’m sure that in their private lives they love their pets and are perfectly nice, even talkative, people. But their presence in Francophone circuses has become an intrusive mannerism, down to the central mime figure in “Love,” who clutches flowers to his various multihued jackets and serves as a, or the, representative of the flower-child, all-you-need-is-love moral that is meant to overcome protest and war and injustice. It’s too painfully easy.

For the Beatles and their most obsessive fans, “Love” poses a dilemma. It will undoubtedly be a lucrative source of income for Apple and its owners for years to come, if not for all eternity. The music sounds terrific and will no doubt sound more human on home speakers on the soundtrack due in the fall.

There are those who will always resent any tinkering with the originals, although what is original varies from person to person. When I saw the Beatles live, the girlish squeals drowned out the music. For some, nostalgic pops and clicks on their well-worn LP’s are now part of the authenticity. Those who believe that the senior Mr. Martin, with his orchestrations and sonic collages, lent a classical cachet to the primitive musical gropings of the foursome will welcome his chance to reshape this material even more elaborately.

Yet in the world of recordings, what’s wrong with a little tinkering, as long as a listener knows what’s going on? A Mozart score is open to endless interpretation, and Da Ponte’s operatic stage directions are routinely ignored. Yet Mozart survives. The Beatles’ original intentions will always be right there in their recordings, and anyone who wishes to stick solely with those is free to do so. Opening up this music to interpretation is just part of the process of their ascending into the cultural pantheon.

But what does “Love” tell us about Cirque du Soleil, which by now is a cultural phenomenon as symptomatic of our time as the Beatles were in theirs? “Mystère” is the only Las Vegas Cirque show I have not seen, but it was the first and, by all reports, the closest to Cirque roots: breathtaking circus acts, dazzling visuals, dorky New Age soundtracks with world-music flavorings.

Since then, concepts have infused the Cirque du Soleil mix as the team quite rightly strives for novelty. “O,” the water show, was still a series of spectacular acts, but the set was so amazing that sheer bedazzlement overrode any lingering regrets about absent artistic profundity. By now, Cirque sets for the permanently installed show are built on an order of magnitude and technical sophistication that easily transcends the flashiest Broadway musicals, even “The Phantom of the Opera,” now playing here, too, or opera, which for 400 years offered more awesome spectacle to audiences than anything else.

To sustain interest from show to show, however, you need more than just spectacle. “O” had water; “Zumanity” has sex, however silly; “KÀ” has an elaborate fairy tale of lost imperial twins in search of each other and enlightenment; and “Love” has the Beatles.

In the end, though, spectacle trumps concept; this is the era of the arena rock show and mass displays like those of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. By now, stage directors who work in theater and opera have been lured to direct such events: Robert Lepage did a Peter Gabriel tour and La Fura dels Baus, the Barcelona rock-theatrical Surrealists, staged an Olympics opening spectacle in their home city.

“KÀ” is the best Cirque show because it was conceived and directed by Mr. Lepage. He is French Canadian, too, which must have made things easier with the Cirque team. “KÀ” has the same overblown musical formulas as most other Cirque shows. The story is pretty much an excuse for the visuals.

But the visuals are truly amazing, and like the best of the “cirque moderne” directors, Mr. Lepage uses traditional circus acts to dramatize his story: acrobatics as combat, aerialism as flight and escape. And his vision for spectacle is different enough from that of the Cirque team to enliven a format that threatened to go stale.

For an opera lover, “KÀ” hints at what Mr. Lepage may accomplish with the Metropolitan Opera’s new “Ring” starting in 2010. When the Metropolitan Opera House was built 40 years go, it boasted about its stage machinery, though it must look pretty primitive next to a specially constructed Cirque theater, especially the huge rotating, floating platforms of “KÀ.” At least at the Met, Mr. Lepage will have a real story and real music. One wonders what he’ll do with Wagner, or what he might have done with the Beatles.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company



This entry was posted on Monday, July 10th, 2006 at 9:12 AM and filed under Uncategorized. Follow comments here with the RSS 2.0 feed. Skip to the end and leave a response. Trackbacks are closed.

One Response to “Cirque du Soleil: A Beatles Love-In From Las Vegas to Eternity By JOHN ROCKWELL”

  1. LilacAmy11 said:

    Has anyone seen it? I don’t really like Cirque d’Solei but I love the Beatles and I’ll be going to Vegas in November (my husband and I do every year) so I kinda want to see it…


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