Join Date: Jul 21, 2005
a friend's review of the beatles cirque du soleil show "love"
the following review is written by a friend who was an editor at rolling stone, had his own rock magazine I.C.E. for 20 years, and was therefore lucky enough to get invited to the press preview of the beatles cirque show. he is also a huge beatles fan whose early beatles posters are still on loan to the rock and roll hall of fame in cleveland.
thought some planning to go might be interested in reading it...
"I wanted to alert my friends – the musically passionate ones - that I was lucky enough to see the new Beatles / Cirque du Soleil “LOVE” show in Las Vegas (on June 27) and my verdict is that it was thrilling, exhilarating and totally worth the effort. I had the time of my life, and if you’re getting this, it’s because I think you might, too. (I have absolutely no music-biz agenda to send this out - it's being sent simply because I was moved by the show.)
I have to be careful not to go crazy with the adjectives, because it’s an overwhelming sensory-overload presentation. For 90 minutes, you’re bombarded with amazing visuals from Cirque and audio wonders off the Beatles’ absolute first-generation master tapes. The marriage of the two worked great together for this Beatles fan.
If you’re having trouble picturing it, it’s almost like a crazy 90-minute live video of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” with any number of trampoline jumpers, high-wire acts, frenetic dancers and crazy clowns, doing their thing, sometimes all simultaneously. There are, however, some slow and poignant moments, sometimes with just one person on stage (momentarily); it’s certainly not all insanity.
Amazingly, there seems to be almost a complete lack of “cheese factor”; the Beatles’ magic touch (meaning their business-affairs brain trust) has struck gold again. The whole presentation carries an air of dignity and class, with perhaps only the slightest touch of campiness.
I kept feeling like John Lennon was being channeled into the room… this thing is so Lennon-esque. I’m absolutely certain that Lennon would have loved, even adored, this show… it is such a combination of The Fool, Magic Alex, Hard Day’s Night zaniness, out-of-the-box thinking, Mr. Kite’s swirling atmosphere, Peter Sellers goofiness and crazy-Lennon thinking. Same with George Harrison, to a slightly lesser degree… and it’s George we have to thank for this show’s existence. So with no slight at all to Paul and Ringo, who are heard prominently & frequently, “LOVE” struck me over and over as being extremely John- and George-esque. It just so captures the zeitgeist of the Fabs’ humour and irreverence that was their mantra from the very beginning all the way up until they started feuding near the end.
It’s a theatre-in-the-round, so everyone has the same consistent view. The performances range anywhere from one to a couple dozen Cirque dancers and acrobats doing their thing from below the stage, to stage level, to way up to the roof. The dancing and feats are charming and enthralling, but never to the level of “Oh my God, how did they do that”; perhaps that would detract too much from the music.
And the music: It is far from just a bunch of Beatle songs played back-to-back. George Martin and his son worked with the first-gen multi-track master tapes at Abbey Road studios and came up with a breathtaking array of segues, mash-ups, aural landscapes and even unreleased studio chatter to mesmerize any Beatles fan. One song will start and then another will immediately take over; one familiar rhythm track will suddenly be overlaid by George’s guitar solo from a completely different Beatles song; sometimes things jump from song to song in less than five-second increments. It can be dizzying, but wildly exhilarating.
I’m sure someone has tallied how many “unreleased moments” there are, especially the studio chatter. I was deeply involved in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” when all of a sudden I realized George was singing the outtake verse; it was the sublime solo acoustic demo version that Cirque was using. But this is not a showcase for bootleg collectors to hear versions they’ve never heard before; that will only result in disappointment. It really is the whole audio-visual experience that makes this a home run.
The key is that the music was all done by the master, George Martin, whose magic touch continues to this day. The sound quality has been compared to being right there in Abbey Road studios, and who am I to disagree. Take an acoustically perfect room (I assume - or close to it), add six thousand speakers, and use the true Beatles master tapes, all overseen by Martin, and you have an audio experience that… well, even if you took away Cirque and placed a bowl of fruit at center stage for 90 minutes, might still be worth it for Beatles fans.
No show is without its flaws, and the biggest gripe I’ve heard, which I share strongly, is the short-shrift the Beatles’ magical period of 1963-64 is given. Early Beatlemania is represented in a couple of places, but it definitely takes a back seat to the more developed Beatles music of 1967-69. This show is mostly about Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, Abbey Road and that ilk.
I was also sitting in my seating thinking that the “Blackbird” segment was going on too long, seemed a bit out of place and ended with a bird-poop shtick that just didn’t click with everything else. I’ve since seen reviews that almost universally call “Blackbird” the weakest part of the show.
The pacing lagged in a few spots, but perhaps that’s inevitable for such a busy presentation spread over an hour and a half. Other quibbles become more picky and personal; I, for one, was electrified when the first strains of “Tomorrow Never Knows” came over the sound system; now this will be incredible, I thought. I was very disappointed when it quickly moved on to the next song after just a few seconds. That Lennon masterpiece is probably not mainstream enough for Cirque’s and Apple’s intention to make sure this show plays well to families on vacation from Peoria.
Speaking of families, I took my nine-year-old son, and he had a fantastic time, a trip I’m sure he’ll remember the rest of his life. There is nothing drug- or sex-wise at all that is family-unfriendly.
Perhaps I was caught up in the moment, but sitting there, I started wondering if this might be the best Beatles-related project since they broke up. I was really that exhilarated. It so captures the spirit of the Beatles and their music, especially during the zany psychedelic era.
In fact, if I was pressed to name the three best ways, today, to experience the profound celebratory nature of the Beatles’ music and “the world’s greatest love affair,” as I think Derek Taylor once called it, I would have to say that the three would be a Paul McCartney concert, a big-screen theatrical showing of A Hard Day’s Night, and now this.
A “must-see” recommendation is difficult on a number of levels. I could play it safe and say that it’s probably not for everyone; perhaps cynics and doubters need not apply. The show has an endearing vulnerability to it, which tough cookies may find easy to punch holes in. There are moments in the show where you can choose to go along with the good feeling, or groan at its potential sappiness. I came close to the latter during the show’s grand finale, but never crossed over.
Some purists may also chafe at the commercialism that is part & parcel of such a large-scale undertaking. The Beatles’ name and logo is everywhere at the Mirage, from the room keys to every employee wearing a button, even hard-nosed pit bosses. I allow them that point, but I found it charming and even surreal to walk through the casino and hear “Devil in Her Heart” over the sound system (it was pretty much all Beatles all the time while I was there). Or even more surreal, sitting poolside and looking up at the gigantic Mirage hotel and seeing its top few stories emblazoned with the Fabs’ famous images and logo - the size of which must have consumed several football fields. Could this really be the four scruffy lads in black leather jackets who couldn’t get arrested in 1961 on the other side of the world? Has there ever been a bigger entertainment miracle?
The other problem with telling friends “you must see this!” is that if you rave about an album to someone and they don’t like it, they’re out maybe 10 bucks and an hour of time. For a new movie, maybe it’s $15-20 and three hours. The stakes are obviously much higher for this. (Ticket prices range from $69-$150, and although there truly is not a bad seat in the intimate house, I’d avoid the $69 seats for a reason I can’t divulge without giving away an element of the show.)
Thus “LOVE” is more anchored, remote and expensive than any other Beatle recommendation imaginable – except maybe a trip to Liverpool. If you want to combine it with other “business” in Vegas, how long do you have to see it? The producers are hoping for a 10-year run, but when I was there two days before the grand opening, there were still seats available for pretty much every night into the future. So I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk guaranteed success like a Broadway play that’s sold out for six months in advance. Us Beatle fans can only hope and pray that “LOVE” takes hold and sticks. If there’s any justice in the theatrical rock world, “LOVE” will have more legs than A Chorus Line."