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THE BEATLES LOVE by Cirque du Soleil at The Mirage in Las Vegas, October 20th, 2016, Reviewed

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Cirque De Soleil’s Love has been playing at Le Mirage for ten years now, and the soundtrack, the album of the show, is one of the great Beatles experiences, as I’m sure you’d agree. Produced by George and his son Giles Martin, the fifth and kid did a tremendous job. Listen to the way they mix “Strawberry Fields” near the start of “Glass Onion”, “Nowhere Man” behind “Blue Jay Way” –listen to the album afloat in a sea of Beatledom, so everything you hear sounds Beatles, every thought drifts and shifts in sands of the fab four: there is no segueing as much as an unsettled switching of place. Imagine the Beatles as a huge canvas of music, and Love, as a magnifying glass, focusing here and there as it pleases, near the beginning the opening chord from “A Hard Day’s Night” leads to “Get Back”, a musical magician’s game with past perfect memories.

The show itself, hasn’t left Las Vegas Boulevard, even the second  Michael Jackson show has toured (I missed it when it played MSG), but Cirque De Soleil which, given the random day I chose as an example, plays to mostly full houses, and I am sure one reason is because you can’t see it elsewhere, has remained put. Finding myself in Vegas for the Stones gig, it was an opportunity to see for myself something I’d very much wanted to catch.  My own gut was I was in for a disappointment. I never much cared for the Canadian franchise Cirque de Soleil, a mix of circus acrobatics and slapstick, and I wasn’t certain how it could possibly play out. I had been to see an early Cirque De Soleil production twenty years ago and was bored sideways, so, yeah. But still, at the very least, the soundtrack, man.

Listening to Love now, it is the best seen as a  testament to Sir George, a producer’s album and ear, a sonic investment in the Beatles and how their music managed to be separate and yet all of a piece. Love the show is that  and more, how the world the Beatles constructed was filled with details so all these years later, it becomes a Beatle land: Strawberry Fields and yellow submarines, nowhere men and fools on hills, Beatlemaniacs and dead mothers, four friends who are driven in this land, in Octopus Gardens, glass onions, Abbey Roads, Liverpool docks, with Ed Sullivan, Eleanor, Julia, Lady Madonna, Sugar Plum Fairies… it is all mythic and mystical and complete in its elsewhereness. As Beatles, numbers one, three, and five are now dead, leave us, they live on in ways that no other band comes remotely close to reaching. Their only competitor, the Rolling Stones, can not even touch it. Stuck in time, from 1944 – 1969, but completed in space, the Beatles are in a dream for us now.

This Beatlescape might be one reason why the band allowed their music to be performed at a theatrical event for the first and only time: if they didn’t want a world in Universal or Disneyworld, and if “John, Paul, George, Ringo And Bert” was too intrusive, why not this Beatle of the imagination, this seeing the physicalness of the Beatles once and for all: young men and women populating a dream of color and wonder and physical precision and musical phenomenations. Oh, and Harrison was buddies with one of the Cirque De Soleil’s founders, Guy Laliberté. There is no story as such, it is a mix of circus and swinging London, crafted to Beatles flashpoints. It starts during  the London blitzkrieg  towards the end of WWII, then merges it with Blue Meanies in images translated from the “Yellow Submarine”, and the new world of the 60s flowers. Overheard, as silhouettes, in recording studios, the Beatles chat behind the masks of themselves, like past figures haunting their story, and then it is the rooftop concert…

“Love” isn’t perfect because (or do I mean “Because”) Cirque de Soleil, good at dance, great at acrobatics, it significantly falls off when it comes to depth, and the more serious it gets, a protest gets violent during “Revolution”, the worse it becomes, until it reaches a nadir beyond any belief or taste or thought. How the hell  Yoko Ono allowed this to slip through, I have no idea. It left me so aghast it brought me right out of the show. During an interesting little “A Day In The Life”, with a young boy in bed, falling in and out of dreams, it horrifyingly reenacted John’s mother, Julia Lennon’s,  death. She was run over by a drunk driver when John was sixteen years old, here it is put to the lyric “he blew his mind out in a car” -written for Tara Browne. What the fuck is that? What fucking moron thought of it and signed off on it? I bet John  Lennon never would have allowed it. How dare they turn Lennon’s greatest tragedy into a circus show? Night after night, Julia Lennon’s death is reenacted for hard currency, and therein lies the problem with “Love”. Cirque de Soleil, uses gymnastics, dancing, aerial acrobatics, and circus tropes, everything else that comes to mind, to expand on not a concept, but a theme. Whether it be musical, Michael Jackson has had two such shows, Elvis Presley only lasted three years (the Beatles are on their tenth and will run forever), or sex, rainforests, movies (“Avatar”), but they don’t delve deeply into them. Everything is a handglide to sensation. That might not much matter with Luzia, a Mexican travelogue, but the Beatles… that’s tricky, indeed.

“Love” allows you to see the problems with the Beatles, such as they are, with the successes and troubles with Cirque de Soleil. Time has been kind to the Beatles, even Magical Mystery Tour’s psychedelic whimsy has survived, and it is that whimsy that works first and foremost: a swingin’ 60s, miniskirted, skirting neon blow out colors like a circus top of sound and visions: deeply athletic girls and boys, frugging and flying though the dome to the sound of  “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”. This is thrilling and beautiful imagining on the imaginable. A pas de deux to “Something” is lovely without being a workout, the “Octopus’ Garden” squids and quids is very fun. And the Beatlemania (they call the girls groupies, of course they weren’t) fans all function to perfection. And the finale, where the 62 members of the cast take their bow to “All You Need Is Love”, is moving simply because it is moving. The Beatles were in their 20s when they recorded these songs, most of the cast appear to be around the same age, so it stretches across the generations as well. It may be large, but it isn’t heavy, the dancers and trapeze artists, they have a jaunt to them, an energy level that is part of what the Beatles were. It dovetails very well.

Here is a list of the various acts during the show:

Korean rope
Russian swing
Rope contortion
Bungee
Trampoline
Latex rope
Skater
Spanish web
Free running

It is so thrilling, and the sound so intoxicating: “6,341 speakers and 2,013 seats set around a central stage. Each seat is fitted with three speakers, including a pair in the headrest”‘ It looks and sounds so good that I am sorry for its failure as art, it fails as a serious reflection of the Beatles. It gets whimsy, psychedelia, and Beatlemania, but fails completely at surrealism, politics, and the simple expansion on the art form. There may be no way to do the Beatles justice, but when Cirque de Soleil go out of their comfort zone, they are open to questions of taste and sensitivity. Put it this way: the MC for the evening is named Doctor Robert. They can visualize a Walrus and an eggman (and Blue Meanies: they owe a helluva lot to that children’s movie), But what do you do with  “man you shoulda seen them kicking Edgar Allen Poe”? Lady Madonna, as a black pregnant teenage girl, is a little too racially iffy, cops as piggies and protesters as skateboarders is all a question mark. Eleanor Rigby is beyond overdone as a fetishism of loneliness. And the death of Julia -a terrible lapse in judgement very near the end.

Entering the vicinity of the “Love Theatre” is a form of heaven for Beatles fans, from the shop, to the décor, the iconic jumping in a field a Hard Day’s Night vicinity logo, nonstop Beatle videos before the show, and the iterations of love and peace, the attempt to put their story in a brighter, larger London Swings, hippiedom palatial dream world, is invested here and how; it is both wondrous and sad. Giles Martin told of sitting in every single one of the 2000 plus seats to check the sound, every detail is perfected. The music is, simply, stupendous, and it is (probably, I’ve only seen one other) the best Cirque De Soleil possible. It is inside out artistry but it isn’t great art, and it isn’t as good as what the Beatles deserve. It doesn’t maintain its tone, the slapstick intervals are pathetic.The Beatles always needed more than just love, and will always need more than Cirque De Soleil.  It isn’t THE BEATLES, it is a Beatles. .

Grade: B+

3 Comments

  1. Mary Hyland on October 27, 2016 at 5:28 am

    I found your review extremely telling to those of us who feel similarly when it comes to Beatles music tossed about with a backdrop of dancers, contortionists and other assorted weirdos as interpretive dance freaks. I would probably never set foot in Las Vegas to start with but if I did I’m not sure I would be making a beeline for the Beatles’ Love performance. While their music will always draw me in as it has since my childhood, the rest is all superfluous. I don’t need to see leotard-clad boys and girls spinning out of control to Hello Goodbye nor would I want to. For me, all that’s missing are the clowns and I hate clowns (couldn’t you just see the head clown being Brian?). Don’t much care for the idea of julia’s death being retold night after night either. John would probably walk out in disgust. While I adore the idea of a million speakers blaring Beatles’ music, for my part I could just put on a sleep mask and listen to the rest of the show.

  2. Nancy Kirsh on June 2, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    I love, loved the show. So unique and somewhat surreal. Costumes, music dancing, acrobatics-were fabulous.
    I’m curious to know who plays the Mr. Robert character?. So, so good.

    Appreciate your response.

    Thank you.

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