Something I would like to say before I do this review: I feel very out of my element doing this. It’s very hard for me to talk about the dance/circus style of Cirque du Soleil because I know very little about it. But, damn it, I spent all that time in Vegas, and I want to do something worthwhile for Anglotopia about that time, so I’m going to give it the old college try. Please forgive me if I get some things wrong; I’ve tried a lot in the past few days to get as much of the details right as possible, and I fear I might not get some details right.
First, some backstory: In 2000, George Harrison talked with Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil, about possibly doing a Beatles show. In the next three years, he got in touch with all the parties necessary to make the show happen, from the surviving Beatles to the dead ones’ wives to Apple Corps and presumably Michael Jackson. In 2006, the show, Love, finally came into being. When my Mom found out about it, she said she wanted to go there if the show ever came to Chicago, but, given that the show was done in a specially-made theatre with over 6000 speakers, including 3 for each seat, I knew that was never happening. 8 1/2 years later, me and Dad finally made it, so let me tell you what I saw:
This show, if it has a plot, follows the life and music of the Beatles, showing the world that created them and how they, in turn, returned the favour. It covers all this in broad strokes, and when I say broad strokes, I mean, well let’s cover some of the things the show throws at the audience.
- “Get Back” is one of the opening numbers of the show, acting as a re-enactment of the famous Rooftop Concert, ending with the ensemble destroying the set, presumably symbolic of the end of the era, segueing into “Glass Onion/Eleanor Rigby,” symbolising the bombed-out Liverpool the lads were born into.
- “I am the Walrus” has some very odd staging, consisting mainly of a man breakdancing while the rest of the ensemble just holds crockery and projections of clouds play on the screens. At the time, I thought that it was just a letdown; given all the insane imagery in the song’s lyrics, was this really the best they could do, I thought? But, according to the official website, the breakdancer is “The Walrus,” representing the rock and roll spirit starting to infect the lives of people in the war.
- After this, at the performance I went to, there was a delay where some instrumental music I felt I should know played. It sounded like something from the soundtrack to a 1950s film, but one I couldn’t put my finger on. At the end of the performance, I found out that A) the delay was not intentional, and B) Odds are, nobody in the house knew what the music was, even the people who made it. The only thing they knew was it didn’t sound like the Beatles.
- There are a good number of characters in the play, and it took quite a bit of reading to figure out just what they were doing there. For instance, a foursome pops up regularly, and, according to the official website, they’re called The Nowhere Men, fans of the Beatles throughout their history, symbolising everything good that came out of their music. I’m not sure what they actually do other than generally look like Willy Wonka, Dudley Moore, Richard Machin, and the image that forms in my head whenever I hear the term “Yobbo.” I am tempted to say something like “Even Across the Universe had something resembling actual characters,” but I have to admit that the Cirque du Soleil doesn’t really do traditional narrative.
- “Something” introduces an interesting theme that runs throughout the show: unrequited love. A man tries to woo four women in skimpy lingerie, but just as it appears he’s won them over, they fly away. This is a theme that returns in numbers like “Yesterday” and “Can You Take Me Back.” I’m not sure why, but it may have something to do with the fact that, well, the band’s breakup coincided with the Fab Four entering into stable relationships.
- “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” is a recreation of the 1966 “Bigger than Jesus” controversy, and, by recreation, it mostly consists of circus performers doing their thing while one character (for about half a verse) stands in front of a cross and two Klansmen just wander around. Also, there are two girls in the number who appear to be conjoined at the hat with what can only be described as “Electric Boobs.” Presumably, these girls got lost on the way to Caesar’s Palace for the Elton John show; “Bennie and the Jets” won’t be played this night.
- “Help” is choreographed, more or less to four skateboarders skating on a ramp assembled during the performance of “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” I can’t say I think that the song’s lyrics mesh well with four guys performing moves Tony Hawk would struggle with.
- “Octopus’ Garden,” as expected, seems to focus more on the joyous, marine life aspect of the song than on just why the singer is so eager to not be found and just why he’d feel safer underwater, and, later on, the entire first floor gets covered in a Yellow Submarine tarp, which ultimately retracts.
- Some of the imagery in the show is as bizarre as it is impressive, including several scenes where characters ride a tandem bicycle with several feet on the vacant pedals, and one, during Blackbird, that seems to drive itself. In an early scene a character wears a hat that seems to have several hands on a wire protruding from it; and, somehow, when Krishna appears in “Here Comes the Sun,” he only has two hands.
- A character named Sugar Plum Fairy is in the play, a Black man dealing records to the kids of Liverpool, and is married to Lady Madonna, the perpetually pregnant woman who appears in the song of the same name. She has apparently been pregnant for over 8 years; the length of her pregnancy may give Bonnie from Family Guy a run for her money.
- From “Come Together” to “A Day in the Life,” the darker elements of the 1960s start to crop up, from rebels lashing out against the police to stock footage of the Stalin-era USSR being played in reverse, a la Come and See, to, ultimately, a cataclysmic car crash that ends in destruction, that is, alas, not tied into the “Get Back” opening. Needless to say, Altamont is not brought up, since that was a Stones thing, not a Beatles thing, but, then again, neither is Charlie Manson. The ethos is clear: It’s The End Of An Era.
- But that isn’t the end. The Beatles may be gone, but their music and their memory lives on; “Hey Jude,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” and “All You Need is Love” play and conclude the show, representing the joyous reunion of the Beatles that this show represents.
But, ultimately, harsh as the list above may have been, it’s a good show. We spent over $100 for seats in the nosebleeds, and it was absolutely worth it. If you end up in Vegas and have $100 to spare, don’t spend it at the casino. Spend it at the theatre on “Love.” Well, maybe gather a few more for the gift shop.