Only Love could bring Yoko Ono and the Beatles together again. Luckily a troupe of high-flying French Canadians were there to make sure it happened.
Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Ono and George Harrison's widow, Olivia, walked the red carpet Friday night at the premiere of Love, a new Cirque du Soleil extravaganza set entirely to Beatles music handpicked by the Fab Four's main producer, George Martin.
Love has taken up residence in a $130 million, 2,013-seat theater at the Mirage Hotel that took two years to build. Every seat is equipped with three speakers, to better immerse the audience in the magical, mysterious world populated by "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "Eleanor Rigby" and "Lady Madonna."
Love, which has taken on the tricky task of combining Cirque du Soleil's signature brand of visual storytelling with the already impact-laden music of the Beatles, was inspired by the friendship between Cirque founder Guy Laliberté and Harrison, the "quiet Beatle" who died in 2001 but had wanted to do more with the Beatles' legacy.
The responsibility of doing justice to the mighty sound left behind by John, Paul, George and Ringo was left to director Dominic Champagne, who also had input from Ono, Olivia Harrison, Starr and McCartney.
"I tried to get inspired by the lyrics, but also the moments and the motion of their careers," Champagne told the Associated Press. "We tried to be spiritual and physical without trying to be too didactic. I didn't want to do the live version of The Anthology. We're not here to teach the Beatles story to people."
Hats off to the man with the vision but, being in Vegas, Cirque du Soleil is there to entertain, and the audience--be they Beatlemaniacs, theater fans, Cirque afficionados or people who just won big at the blackjack tables--is perhaps going to expect even more from a show that starts off with seemingly foolproof material. (Beatles songs, that is.) And the show is booked to run for 10 years, so, no pressure there.
Luckily, the best shepherd possible was available to guide Cirque du Soleil along the path to success. Martin and his son, Giles, spent two years piecing together 130 tracks from the master tapes at Abbey Road Studios, with Apple Corps Ltd. giving the pair unprecedented free reign over a catalog that has been more or less off-limits for outside use for decades.
What the Martins and Cirque came up with is a 95-minute trip down Penny, er, memory lane that just might make you fall in Love.
Just so long as you don't forget you're smack-dab in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip, that is. (It probably helps if you like the Beatles, too.)
To begin, the audience sits in darkness as the digitally remastered strains of "Because" fill the theater. (NY Times writer Allan Kozinn was "floored by the pristine quality and fine definition of the sound" when he was treated to a five-channel surround system preview in London.)
Then, since there's only so much time for subtlety, an explosion of sights and sounds fill the room in what Time's Richard Corliss called "a rambunctious cue for nostalgia," featuring coupled performers attached to bungee cords doing incredibly complicated things with their bodies to the tune of "Get Back."
Yes, sensory overload follows, as 100-foot screens flash high-def images of concert footage and the days of Beatlemania; more than 4,000 speakers toy with your auricular perception; and wildly costumed acrobats, aerialists and veritable contortionists start coming out of the woodwork.
But oh, the music. And, as anyone who owns any of the Anthology CDs will attest to, there is something unexplainably delightful about snippets of John Lennon joking around in the studio during recording sessions. (Or really saying anything, for that matter.)
Alternate versions, outtakes, sound effects, "Sun King" played backwards--all there, along with the melodious strains of "Hey Jude," "Yesterday," "Here Comes the Sun," "Something" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" and the more experimental sounds of "Revolution," "I Am the Walrus" and "Come Together."
Then again, none of that sounds too impressive probably if you're not a big Beatles fan, a point that Variety's Phil Gallo was quick to make.
"This is a show for Beatlemaniacs, less so for Cirque-heads accustomed to razzle-dazzle, a pinch of humor and a bit of spice." However, "the reworking of the tunes reveals a richness, depth and pliability that reinforces their place atop the rock 'n' roll canon."
Scenes vary from allusions to World War II-era Britain to the psychedelic era of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to the purely extravagant. The fanciful undertones of "Yellow Submarine," "Octopus's Garden" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," for instance, practically dictate the accompanying imagery themselves.
"Sgt. Pepper was done because the Beatles stopped touring," Giles Martin told reporters Friday. "And this was done because the Beatles aren't here."
Time's Corliss guessed that Ono, Olivia Harrison, McCartney and Starr would be "pleased and moved" upon seeing the finished product. He determined that the fact that the show "relies as much on what is heard" as on what is seen should not be a problem.
"Champagne [the director] typically finds mind-expanding ways to visualize the songs," Corliss wrote. "It does no disservice to the new production to say that it's a Beatles show every bit as much as a Cirque show."
It's not every day that a show's best feature may also be its downfall. Because the soundtrack is so good (once again, if you're a Beatles fan) it's best to not go into the theater expecting to be blown away by Cirque du Soleil's take on Liverpool's finest.
In a city that is currently putting on abbreviated versions of Tony-winners like The Phantom of the Opera and Hairspray (which just closed, actually), and where Mama Mia may be the most established Broadway player to date, don't be ashamed to say you're just in Love for the music.