Cirque du Soleil puts big sounds under the big top
Beatles tribute 'Love' is a fab force
LAS VEGAS -- When the Beatles were starting out on their improbable climb to world musical domination, John Lennon used to pump the other lads up with a little call-and-response exercise that concluded with the shared, shouted vow to reach ``the toppermost of the poppermost!"
They did all that and more, of course, and now, more than 40 years on, the Beatles have achieved over-the-toppermost, thanks to ``Love," their new collaboration with Cirque du Soleil , which opened June 30 at the Mirage Hotel and Casino with great, giddy fanfare.
The 90-minute, $150 million production is a delight for nearly all the senses -- with the possible exception of taste in a few spots. But after all, it's being staged in a 2,000-seat, state-of-the-art, totally rebuilt theater in what once was the home of Siegfried & Roy .
It also marks an important departure for both partners in the collaboration: It's the first Cirque du Soleil spectacular, of which there are five presently playing in Las Vegas, built around an outside, pre-existing concept. But it won't be the last -- an Elvis-themed show is already in the works. It's also the first time that Apple Corps Ltd. -- the legendarily protective, and litigious, company that controls the Beatles' legacy -- has entered into a joint effort of this kind.
From the opening, breathtaking a cap p ella harmonies lifted from ``Because " off the ``Abbey Road " album, it's clear that musical directors Sir George Martin and his son, Giles Martin , have cleaned up the sound of the Beatles' recordings. They've also brought a willingness to mix and mash up some of the most revered creations in the canon of popular music. The 6,000 speakers installed in the theater, including those in seat backs and headrests, deliver these very familiar yet strikingly new sounds with unprecedented power and clarity.
The scenes trace the well-known history of the world's most famous rock 'n' roll group -- starting at the end with the ``Get Back " roof concert and quickly morphing through a ``Glass Onion " to wartime Liverpool, which spawned all four Mop Tops. Overhead, Cirque acrobats perform their patented rope routines, and there are also dancers and actors portraying Beatles of varying ages along with song characters on the busy, cluttered stage. From the second row, at times it was all too much to take in. Patrons in the upper, cheaper seats may have actually had a better vantage point.
The exhilaration of early Beatlemania is reproduced during ``I Want to Hold Your Hand ," and bits of ``Drive My Car " and ``What You're Doing " fuel a tumbling routine featuring the VW bug made famous on the ``Abbey Road" cover. Alternatively, ``Something " is presented as an erotic set piece featuring a single male dancer and four female aerial acrobats.
The scenes flow quickly, but the mid performance triumph is when ``Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! " -- featuring a carnival knife-throwing crucifixion motif -- blends with ``Help " into a complex half-pipe rollerblading performance without missing a beat. The willingness to literally make leaps of imagination pays off handsomely here.
Other highlights include the synthesizing of the mystical ``Tomorrow Never Knows " and ``Within You Without You " -- when much of the audience is covered by a huge bedsheet -- and a gorgeous ``Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds ." ``Revolution " marks the end of the '60s peace-and-love pipe dream with vigorous trampoline routines, and ``While My Guitar Gently Weeps " is performed largely by a solo female dancer.
The Beatles were prone to messy endings, and that is also the case with ``Love." A cathartic presentation of ``A Day in the Life " hints at the death of Lennon's mother after she was hit by a car. The incredibly powerful female acrobat portraying Julia Lennon falls to the stage as the song's huge, concluding chord reverberates throughout the theater. It's a moment of real human connection. But it is also far too much a downer on which to end a Vegas spectacular.
So we are treated to a confetti-drenched sing a long of ``Hey Jude " and an encore-ready version ``All You Need Is Love," and everyone goes home happy. That's probably how it should be. ``Love," which is slated for a 10-year run at the Mirage, is a fresh and innovative take on two classic art forms that might have the magic to withstand the grind of two shows a night, five nights a week , in Sin City.