As you’ve probably heard by now, Cirque du Soleil has a new Beatles-inspired show in Vegas, at the Mirage, in the very theater where Roy got mauled by the white tiger. This new show presents a highly digitized mashup of Beatles music — cut & pasted by Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles — and an overproduced, 90-minute dance/aerobics carnival heavy on rope climbing. I don’t know why, but I expected great things. You know: It’s an idea so bad, it’s just got to be good.
The show is called LOVE, I think — although it may
also be called The Beatles LOVE or, quite possibly, The Beatles LOVE Cirque du Soleil. (That’s actually how the title appears to read on the show’s poster and marketing materials.)
The Beatles LOVE Cirque du Soleil. But .?.?. do they?
I don’t know. I just don’t know. I do know that while watching this spectacle — coproduced by Apple Corps and sanctioned by the Beatles and their families — my companion was heard to mutter repeatedly: Thank God John Lennon is dead. Aesthetically, John Lennon and sad Euro-clowns don’t really mix. Kinda oil & water. Sad clowns holding lonely bouquets — I mean, they may try to pass as badass acrobats, but we all know they’re really mimes.
The trouble with this show is not a lack of passion, technical brilliance or thought. The Beatles LOVE is staggeringly complex and wildly creative. The trouble with this show is, it’s just so totally wack. In fact, it is the wackest shit I have seen in quite some time.
If you are a slave to conceptual cohesion — or even a casual friend — this is not your show. (You might do better with the $65 shindig at Bally’s where the topless showgirls sink the Titanic with Samson & Delilah.) The good news is, they have handy cup holders in the seats for the very large commemorative drinks available for purchase — named after Beatles songs, natch. Here Comes the Sun ($8.50) is made with Captain Morgan’s rum and orange juice.
The nondrunk may wonder: How does one find clarity, or even an aesthetic backbone, in a show where 1940s Liverpool has just been bombed, and some dude in a metallic Madonna corset is pop-locking? (Or is that krumping? Did they have krumping in post-WWII Liverpool? Maybe so. Apparently, they had a large and thriving clown community.)
The sober viewer may also wonder how some guys Rollerblading on a halfpipe ended up in a Beatles show, doing mediocre “extreme” stunts to the tune of “Help!” while a guy in a prisonlike stripey outfit is being crucified on an extreme cross (it’s metal, anyway). The nitpicking fan may also ponder what African gumboot dancing and film footage of yellow rain boots really have to do with “Lady Madonna.” I mean, they might wonder a little bit.
Others may pause to consider, Were umbrellas an important subtext in the Beatles oeuvre?, because this show is a bona fide salute to umbrellas. No shit. There are red ruffly umbrellas, black umbrellas, boring drab umbrellas and umbrellas that produce smoke and light. Just an awful lot of umbrellas.
In this context, the sequences that are more literal, childlike interpretations of the music are a welcome relief, and suggest what might have been, in a different show. Perhaps a children’s show. The Beatles’ music is, after all, great children’s music: Its deep whimsy, cosmic wonderment, and also its darkness are rooted in — and speak to — early childhood. And the songs are so inherently abstract, they don’t require a lot of extra psychedelic gilding. (Aesthetically speaking, the animated film of Yellow Submarine is a pretty faithful, even literal interpretation of the songs.)
The “Octopus’s Garden” tableau is cool: a nocturnal underwater world featuring swishy white puppets (the fish of sleep?) and hanging figures suggesting bridal jellyfish. It’s simple. Clean. Only one or two actual concepts being presented here. And with that simplicity provided, the space between the notes and the space between the visual ideas open up, to be filled by the viewer’s imagination. With just a little breathing room, the viewer may add her own dreamlike thoughts and feeling-tones to this experience — memories, new thoughts about the music, the world, everything. She may become a cocreator in this work of art and not merely a sensory-overloaded bystander. The Beatles always gave that creative space to their listeners. The fifth Beatle isn’t really Billy Preston or Pete Best — it’s actually you.
Likewise, the “Here Comes the Sun” sequence is beautiful in its simplicity and specificity. An overt tribute to George, it features four women hanging on ropes overhead, performing astonishing yoga postures in slow motion. A big old sun burns on a screen behind them.
I could be remembering it wrongly, but as I recall, this was a rare instance when a song was allowed to play at some length in its natural form, somewhat unmolested by the mash-happy hands of the Martins. For most of the show, these two pull a Stars on 45, dissecting and reanimating the Beatles catalog, ProToolsing the fuck out of the original tracks to create a sort of RoboBeatles. You know: It sounds like the Beatles, but it’s bigger, louder, colder and more perfectly in tune. I enjoyed it as an amusing and fascinating exercise, but once the mashup craze is over, the soundtrack will probably sound very “2006.”
The same could be said for the show’s visual bombardment, which is obviously post-MTV. My friend felt that in the end, this show’s roller-skating, rope-twirling, see-sawing, trampolining mashup frenzy kinda diminished both the Beatles and the performers. On that note: The 22-year-old chorus members here are working so effing hard — risking their necks, literally, performing horrifically dangerous acts of superhumanism in the most atrocious costumes imaginable — that you feel like an absolute jerk for laughing. At the end of the show, you really have to clap hard for them. For the kids.
But mostly, you must laugh. And drink Here Comes the Suns heavily.