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Questions about ‘Viva Elvis’ at Aria? We have the answers

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Steve Marcus / Steve Marcus / Las Vegas Sun

Cast members dance during a media preview of the new Viva ELVIS show by Cirque du Soleil at Aria Tuesday, December 15, 2009. Preview performances will begin Friday, December 18.

Beyond the Sun

Viva ELVIS media preview

Acrobats perform stunts during the new Viva ELVIS show by Cirque du Soleil at Aria Tuesday, December 15, 2009. Preview performances will begin Friday, December 18. Aria, the centerpiece of the $8.5 billion project, will open after a fireworks display Wednesday night. The development is a partnership between MGM Mirage and Dubai World. Launch slideshow »

Elvis Preview

Elvis Presley giant PEZ dispensers are displayed at the official Viva ELVIS store at Aria Tuesday, December 15, 2009. Preview performances for the new show by Cirque du Soleil will begin Friday, December 18. Aria, the centerpiece of the $8.5 billion project, will open after a fireworks display Wednesday night. The development is a partnership between MGM Mirage and Dubai World.  . Launch slideshow »
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Cirque du Soleil gives a sneak preview of Viva Elvis at CityCenter's Aria Resort & Casino on Dec. 15, 2009.

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Priscilla Presley attends a news conference for the new Viva Elvis show by Cirque du Soleil at Aria on Dec. 15, 2009.

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Cirque du Soleil gives a sneak preview of Viva Elvis at CityCenter's Aria Resort & Casino on Dec. 15, 2009.

Click to enlarge photo

Cirque du Soleil gives a sneak preview of Viva Elvis at CityCenter's Aria Resort & Casino on Dec. 15, 2009.

Click to enlarge photo

Cirque du Soleil gives a sneak preview of Viva Elvis at CityCenter's Aria Resort & Casino on Dec. 15, 2009.

Click to enlarge photo

Cirque du Soleil gives a sneak preview of Viva Elvis at CityCenter's Aria Resort & Casino on Dec. 15, 2009.

There is an Elvis impressionist after all, a lean and stilted performer in a bedazzled jumpsuit who towers over 17 spinning dancers dressed in slacks and colorful sweaters.

The song is “Blue Suede Shoes,” and this piece of wild frivolity was one of the scenes from “Viva Elvis” showcased on Tuesday at Aria’s Viva Elvis Showroom.

That was one of the questions central to the show -- Would there be an actual Elvis impressionist depicted onstage? -- and, customary for Cirque, the segments left a lot of ’splainin’ to do. We’ll ask and answer those as the show preps for its first ticketed preview Friday night (the premiere is set for Feb. 19):

Why is the Elvis character on stilts? “That was sort of a ‘Cirque-y’ version,” director Vincent Paterson said. “You know, we experimented. We wanted to present the humanity of Elvis, and in talking to his family, it was very important to them. It was so interesting. One of the things that many people from the family said to me, or the people who knew Elvis, it wasn’t so much,”Be sure to get his music right.” But, “If you can get the heart and humor of Elvis right, that would make us very happy.”

The crimson-colored, high-arched patterns of the theater walls and bucket-type seats sort of look like Graceland. Is that by design? Yes. As Gilles Ste.-Croix, Cirque senior vice president of creative content and new projects development, said, “We started with the idea what would Elvis like in a theater? We went to Memphis to inspire ourselves. If you see the panels around the theater, they are kind of like (Graceland). The seats are patterned in patterns after the Jungle Room. The fabric of the seats are taken from there.

Any elements from the Las Vegas Hilton theater, where Elvis performed from 1969-1976? Yes, as Ste.-Croix said, “The couches were taken from the sophisticated dark bucket seats from the Hilton. That’s what he would have wanted.”

Did Ste.-Croix actually visit the Hilton to see the showroom in its current state? No. He worked from old photographs.

At one point, I felt my body shaking in my seat. Am I in love, or perhaps emotionally overcome by the Elvis experience? Maybe, but more likely you’re feeling the underside of the showroom vibrate to the bass reverberating through the theater. This also happens during a moment in Carrot Top’s show at Luxor, by the way.

During the number “Loving You,” there are seven guys dressed in Spandex, superhero-style costumes, including one who looks like Green Lantern, leaping around on trampolines on a carnival-style set. What’s up with that? Elvis was really into comic books, and this is a way to evoke that fascination in a very “Cirque-y” way.

What about the two figures performing acrobats on a large guitar that seems to have been fashioned from a set of monkey bars? That is to reflect Elvis’ unrealized relationship with his twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, who died at birth.

Isn’t there a guy with the stage name “Jesse Garon” who performs as an Elvis impressionist in Las Vegas? Yes, he is the “official” Elvis impressionist for all of the appearances Mayor Oscar Goodman makes that require an Elvis impressionist.

Which Vegas icon who is not Elvis Presley does Cirque co-founder Guy Laliberte most resemble? Andre Agassi.

How would you describe Laliberte’s stage attire for Tuesday’s news conference? From the Garth Brooks/Encore line.

A cigar-wielding Col. Tom Parker figure in a beige, 1950s-style suit and matching fedora steps onstage to talk about Elvis. Is he a recurring figure? Yes, that character narrates the entire Presley story in “Viva Elvis.”

Why does he seem so familiar to me? He looks a lot like the manager who appears early in Wayne Newton’s “Once Before I Go.”

Was there an effort to include other voices to narrate the story? Yes. As Paterson said, “We experimented with different narrators taking us through the show, a variety. At one point, I did have an Elvis, not as an impersonator but as an actor, as one of them. We had Mom there for a while. We had little Elvis, we had Parker, and we found that it kind of dissipated the power of the story. We settled on Parker, and he will take us through the show.”

What about the rumored scene where a blue suede shoe stomps out an Elvis impressionist? Tried and rejected, Paterson said. “At one point, we tried that with a crazy Elvis impersonator, this type of (stilted) Elvis impersonator you saw today. That was, like, two days. That’s the nature of Cirque. We try everything. We see how this works, how that works.”

Unlike “Love,” which works entirely from original Beatles recordings, there is a live band and live vocalists performing versions of Elvis’ hits, right? Correct.

How will Elvis himself be depicted? Through vocals captured through his master recordings at Sun Records and later in his career, and through rare home movies. As CKX Inc. Chief Executive Officer Robert F.X. Sillerman (whose company owns Elvis Presley Enterprises) said, “The pieces you are going to see are never-before-seen artifacts from the Elvis Presley vault. There are home movies with this beautiful woman -- I’m not going to steal the thunder about that -- that will make your heart stop.”

Who is “this beautiful woman”? Priscilla Presley.

What does Priscilla say about the show? She told the L.A. Times, “I feel like it's the first time that Elvis went onstage. It's just nerve-racking.”

Who was Priscilla hugging near the stage after the news conference?Longtime Las Vegas entertainment journalist and PR guru Frank Lieberman, who interviewed Elvis during his early days in Vegas.

How is the rocking “All Shook Up” treated in the production? As a gospel number.

Will there be other songs performed with a gospel theme? That is my understanding.

Does the gift shop carry Elvis Pez dispensers? Of course.

With all the scenes tried and scrapped for the production, how many shows -- as an estimate -- could be made from all the material? Paterson estimates 15.

Paterson has worked with such entertainment giants as Madonna and Michael Jackson. What are his plans after launching this show? To retire at age 60.

When does that happen? In May.

Siegfired & Roy were spotted at Aria, with Roy riding in a motorized scooter and Lynette Chappell walking alongside. What did they have to say about the resort? “Absolutely fabulous” is how Siegfried described it.

What is the show’s finale? “Viva Las Vegas.” Need you ask?

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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