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I’ve always found Cirque du Soleil to be a little – I don’t know – fruity. I’m not a big dance guy, and I’m not really impressed by people flopping around in an overly-threatrical sort of way. I’ll grant them that they put on a good spectacle and a lot of the crazy shit they do is pretty amazing, but it’s just not my cup of meat. But then they had to go and create a Beatles-themed show called “Love”. Love is a project that goes beyond simply jumping around and doing crazy stunts while Beatles music plays in the background. They actually tapped legendary Beatles producer George Martin to remix and, in many cases, mash up various Beatles songs and put them in 5.1 surround sound. In many cases, the results are fascinating. For example, in one segment, Martin takes the awesome drum part from Tomorrow Never Knows and lays it behind George Harrison’s Indian music inspired Within You, Without You with great effect. But Martin’s experimenting goes beyond simply laying a few tracks inside other songs. Some songs sound almost brand new thanks to his creativity.
So it almost goes without saying that the music is the star of the show in Love. To hear these original classic Beatles tracks reinvented in such a way and in such high quality (each seat has a built-in speaker), is almost worth the price of admission alone. Fortunately, if you’re not heading to Las Vegas any time soon, the CD is available for purchase. I recommend the CD + Audio DVD package.
But there’s more to the show than an hour and a half of Beatles mash-ups. This is a Cirque du Soleil show, and as such, there’s plenty of flying, flopping, and freaky shit. The show takes place in a round theater, located in The Mirage. The stage sits in the middle and changes form as the show goes on. From time to time, four screens drop down, making an X in the room. And on two of the upper walls, above the seats, images are constantly displayed to enhance the experience.
I must admit that for the first fifteen-to-twenty minutes I sat there expressionless, wondering what in the hell I was watching. The first segment was apparently set in World War II Liverpool, just before the Beatles were born, with bombs going off and rooftops crumbling. The problem was, I didn’t see any sort of parallel between the music playing and what was going on onstage. While the tracks Get Back and Glass Onion were playing, what I was seeing didn’t seem to have any relation to what I was hearing. And frankly, what I was seeing didn’t impress me at all. And as time wore on, I grew more and more indifferent to what was happening on the stage, paying attention only to the awesome soundtrack.
It wasn’t until about ten tracks in, when Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite started in, that things started to pick up in a major way. The song is, after all, about a circus and all the events taking place at that circus, so it’s a natural fit. And thankfully, the performance absolutely nailed it. It was high-flying, freaky, and visually fascinating. And as the music transitioned from Mr. Kite to I Want You (She’s So Heavy) mixed with Helter Skelter, I was riveted.
They moved on to Help!, which featured four rollerbladers in Beatles mop-top helmets (very funny) doing incredible stunts on two half-pipes. Again, the music didn’t exactly jive with what was going onstage, but the spectacle of it all was more than enough to make me forget about that.
The next few tunes were equally entertaining. The group blasted through the aforementioned Tomorrow Never Knows/Within You, Without You bit, as well as Strawberry Fields Forever and Octopus’s Garden. However, when they got to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds I was extremely disappointed by what I considered to be a total missed opportunity. The lyrics to LSD, while completely surreal, read clearly and precisely. Let’s take a look:
Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.
Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,
Towering over your head.
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,
And she’s gone.
Lucy in the sky with diamonds.
Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain
Where rocking horse people eat marshmellow pies,
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers,
That grow so incredibly high.
Newspaper taxis appear on the shore,
Waiting to take you away.
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds,
And you’re gone.
Lucy in the sky with diamonds,
Picture yourself on a train in a station,
With plasticine porters with looking glass ties,
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstyle,
The girl with the kaleidoscope eyes.
That song reads like a fucking roadmap. And yeah, I saw Lucy, I saw the diamonds, and they were both in the sky. But beyond that there was nothing. Oh, aside from some guy pushing around a giant ladder/wheelbarrow. Where were the tangerine trees? Where were the cellophane flowers of yellow and green towering over my head? I know I’m being extremely literal here, but when the imagery is so well defined, why not just roll with it?
After they finished boring me with Lucy, they moved on to an almost Stomp-like performance of Lady Madonna, complete with pregnant leading lady. The problem here is that I hate Stomp…with a passion. So while Cirque’s interpretation of this song was actually very creative and interesting, it just didn’t speak to me at all.
Skipping along to the end, the absolute musical highlight was the back-to-back playing of A Day in the Life, Hey Jude, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise). It was obvious that they were pulling out the big guns for a grand finale. Unfortunately, while I was expecting a visual explosion on the stage, what I saw instead was a lot of folks simply dancing and grooving to the music without a lot of wow moments. However, just after Sgt. Pepper said his goodbye, the four screens came down and displayed images of the four Beatles while All You Need is Love played in the background. It was a great way to end the show, and sort of made me realize that this show was more for Beatles fans and more about the great music than about Cirque du Soleil. And for me, a guy who’s not into Cirque du Soleil in the first place, that was probably a great thing.
When it was all said and done, I consider Love to be a worthwhile experience, but only for those who are either tickled by what Cirque du Soleil does, or are huge Beatles fanatics. If you don’t fall into either category, you may find yourself checking your watch while you wait for the next big daredevil moment, of which there are a few. The stuff that worked best – without question – was the psychedelic-era Beatles stuff from Sgt. Pepper, Revolver, or Magical Mystery Tour. Those songs lent themselves better to what Cirque does, and the tracks that were outside of that era really didn’t seem to fit well.
But if you’re not heading to Las Vegas any time soon, or don’t care to watch Cirque du Soleil, I really recommend checking out the CD or Audio DVD. The sound quality is absolutely amazing, and some of the remixed tunes are incredibly interesting.