Monday, Jan. 5, 2009 | 2 a.m.
IF YOU GO
What: “The Beatles: Love” by Cirque du Soleil
When: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday through Monday (dark Tuesday and Wednesday)
Where: The Beatles: Love Theatre at the Mirage
Admission: $93.50-$150; 792-7777, www.mirage.com
Running time: 90 minutes
Beyond the Sun
At last, a Vegas show that restores your virginity.
Even the most rabid Beatlemaniacs might visit “The Beatles: Love” and feel as if they’re hearing these most-familiar songs for the first time.
“Love,” which opened at the Mirage in 2006, is the fifth of Cirque du Soleil’s six resident shows on the Strip, and it became instantly famous for its soundtrack, a clarified reimagining of the Beatles canon, and for its unparalleled sound design. I would have been happy to see this show with eyes closed: Cirque has created the ideal circumstance for listening to the Beatles’ music. Or any music.
But you’ll want to keep your eyes and ears open (and your heart and mind, while you’re at it) — “Love” is a constant, kinetic, kaleidoscopic collage of uncorked chaos, an often exhilarating, occasionally disorienting immersion in sound and vision.
The show begins in the dark, as we eavesdrop on the Beatles joking and tuning up at a recording session.
Then the iconic clangorous opening chord from “A Hard Day’s Night” hits like a thunderclap, followed by the galloping drum solo from “Abbey Road,” and we’re whisked away.
“Love” isn’t a modish “jukebox musical,” like “Mamma Mia!” or “We Will Rock You,” which construct a sort-of story line around the hits of a pop group. It’s more like a mixtape musical, lovingly put together by the genius who was behind the scenes from the beginning. That would be Beatles producer George Martin, who, with his son Giles Martin, remastered, resequenced, and ingeniously recontextualized the original tracks.
Likewise, this “Love” story is not a staid chronology or biographical sketch. It’s an explosion of impressions radiating from the Beatles’ unprecedented emergence in a repressed, black-and-white, shellshocked postwar England — which sends concussive, concentric ripples of unleashed energy, color, fads and rebellions through the rapidly widening world.
Four impish English boys are at the center of this swirling maelstrom of pop and politics, but “Love” is less about the Beatles themselves than about the whole suddenly self-aware world in the 1960s. It might be compared to “I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes’ 2007 film, which employed multiple actors to assemble a shattered, refracted, reflective image of Bob Dylan.
Characters from the songs make appearances, in the persons of Cirque’s acrobats, aerialists and dancers. There’s Lucy, in the sky, of course, and Eleanor Rigby, and that guy in the pulpit must be Father McKenzie. Lady Madonna is central to a dance sequence and Sgt. Pepper leads a surrealistic parade. Her Majesty floats in and out, but she doesn’t have a lot to say. The Beatles themselves show up several times, in animated silhouette, and their spectral — and still stunningly vital — presence produces shivers.
“Love” teases out a wistful theme that wafts through many Beatles songs, a bittersweet yearning, a wish to get back where we came from, to what we imagine to be a simpler time.
In a stunning sequence, “A Day in the Life” is associated with John Lennon’s lifetime longing for his absent mother, and her subsequent death in an auto accident. George Harrison’s spiritual, mystical explorations receive loving tribute, and Ringo’s whimsical “Octopus’ Garden” gets the full Cirque treatment, as the arena becomes a sea, illuminated by glowing jellyfish and fish kites. If you look for them, you’ll find references to the “Paul is dead” rumors and clues that swept the world, including a winking nod to backmasking music.
An exuberant ensemble of 60 performers are onstage near-simultaneously, swinging from monkey bars and bounding on trampolines on the set, which is effectively a giant jungle gym.
While there are no central “star” acts, more emphasis is given to solo and group dancing, which occasionally bears an appealingly anachronistic hip-hop influence.
Aside from the obvious absence of a live band, there are other novel elements for Cirque, including skaters and real kids playing the four mop tops, careering around the stage in a four-poster bed.
As always, Cirque outdoes itself with astounding effects, including an indoor aurora borealis, and one truly awe-inspiring moment that embraces and encompasses the entire delighted audience within a giant iridescent bubble.
Director Dominic Champagne has staged “Love” in the round, dividing segments of the audience by transparent scrims of blue skies and clouds, and catwalks that radiate from a central pit. The stage design guarantees that no two audience members will see the same show, and a return visit will provide a new vantage point and a new experience. “Love” is happening all around you, all at once, and you can’t see it all, you just can’t — which seems to be one of the themes of the show.
“Love” is the most universal and the most subjective of Cirque spectacles: The more emotional resonance and life history you bring to these songs and the sights they’ve inspired, the more you’ll be rewarded.
As the Beatles themselves put it, the “Love” you take is equal to the “Love” you make.