Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles show gets a revamp
LAS VEGAS — The performance of Cirque du Soleil’s “The Beatles Love” show ended as most of the 4,500 performances over the last decade have: A packed house of 2,000 gave a standing ovation for the dozens of cast members, who took bows while traversing the circular stage at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Suddenly, however, the cheering grew even louder as ticket holders responded to an exceptionally rare coda to the show. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr stepped onstage at the conclusion of the official 10th-anniversary celebration of the hit collaboration on July 14 between the French Canadian circus troupe and the band that famously “changed the face of pop music as we know it.”
“Thank you all for being here,” McCartney, 74, said after a spotlight illuminated him and his former bandmate, the surviving members of the Fab Four, accompanied for the event by John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and George Harrison’s widow, Olivia Harrison, as well as several other family members and friends who took in the performance. “This new version of ‘Love’ is beautiful.”
He was referring to a recently revamped rendition of “Love” that now boasts technical and other enhancements that weren’t possible 10 years ago.
Not to disappoint the numerous Beatles fans young and old in the house, McCartney and Starr bantered playfully with each other and with the fans.
“I loved watching,” Starr, 76, said with an easy laugh, and both expressed their pride and gratitude to the performers who bring the show to life each night.
“Love” spawned consistently laudatory critical reviews at its opening in 2006 and over the past decade has been a commer- cial powerhouse as well: Nearly 8 million people have seen “Love,” according to Cirque officials, establishing an average attendance of about 88 percent capacity.
The one big difference between “Love” and the rest of what the Beatles gave the world during their continually evolving eight-year recording career is that the Cirque show remained relatively stable during its first decade.
That has changed with the new iteration of “Love,” the focal point of last week’s starstudded event that also drew Lennon’s son Sean Ono Lennon; Harrison’s son, Dhani Harrison; “Love” musical producer Giles Martin, the son of the Beatles’ longtime producer George Martin, who died in March; writer-director Dominic Champagne; actor-director Ron Howard, who is working on the forthcoming Beatles documentary “Eight Days a Week”; and various other celebs.
“Love” has “evolved,” a word many of the show’s creators like to use, and today features more of the Beatles’ personalities themselves. The alterations to the show are musical, structural and technological and constitute a gamble for a production that “was not a broken show in any way,” as Martin put it in an interview with The Times.
Chief among the changes: Audiences now see images of the Beatles incorporated into many numbers. There’s footage of McCartney singing “Yesterday,” Starr’s face floats in an air bubble during the rendition of “Octopus’s Garden,” Lennon’s face appears during “All You Need Is Love” and Harrison is reunited with his bandmates in different numbers.
The collaboration between the Beatles and Cirque du Soleil that produced the “Love” show in Las Vegas was initially pegged for a 10-year run. But the production, much like the Fab Four themselves, has proved to be an enduring force.
It was clear from the outset that “Love” wasn’t your garden-variety Las Vegas entertainment diversion focusing on glitz and spectacle. It premiered June 30, 2006, with many of the Fab Four’s most beloved songs often radically reimagined in mash-ups created by the father-son Martin team.
Because the project originally was conceived in the late 1990s by George Harrison and Cirque co-founder Guy LaLiberte as a way for the surviving members to collaborate one more time,
the mission to see it to fruition took on extra emotional heft after Harrison’s death from cancer in 2001.
“The refresh came from Dominic (Champagne, the writer-director of ‘Love’) and I saying we could make the show better,” Giles Martin said. “We don’t want to rest on our laurels. There were a couple of things in the pacing of the show we weren’t happy with, so we went back and looked at it very critically and came up with a list of things of changes we wanted to make.”
The creative team felt that “this show needed to be revamped,” Olivia Harrison said in a separate interview, relaxing in a room backstage a few hours before the performance. “Ten years is a long time, especially today, when everything moves so fast.”
She and Ono took on much of the heavy lifting of overseeing the creation and execution of “Love” and have closely monitored the show over the years.
For Ono, the new version brings immediacy to the central message embodied in the Beatles song that still closes the production, “All You Need Is Love.” That message sounded that much louder to all concerned on the day of another deadly terrorist attack, this one in Nice, France.
“This is a new step forward for the Beatles, not a repeat at all,” Ono, 83, said in another backstage interview. “It’s really showing how intelligent they are to bring love in this big, big way, because right now the whole world is suffering because of a lack of love. They have pointed out that the word ‘love,’ just like the word ‘imagine,’ is going to keep us going forward. I think it’s a beautiful turn.”
“One thing we realized despite our criticisms,” Martin added, “is that we didn’t want to break the heart of the show. It still gets standing ovations most nights, so we don’t have a broken show in any way.”
Keepers of the Beatles legacy said they have relaxed over the years from their initial reluctance to inject too much of the Fab Four’s personalities directly into the production.
In the original version, that resulted in a more impressionistic creation. It still evokes the destruction the four lads experienced in their native Liverpool during World War II from bombing by the Germans, the harsh living conditions after the war into which they soon introduced their music after the serendipitous meeting of young rock ’n’ roll-loving musicians Lennon and McCartney at a church picnic in 1957.
Rather than directly referencing the members of the band, the show has turned the spotlight on a multiplicity of characters from their songs: lonely Eleanor Rigby and Sgt. Pepper as well as creatures that might inhabit fanciful locations such as Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and the Octopus’s Garden.
Cirque du Soleil’s “The Beatles Love” has been revamped with technical and other enhancements that weren’t possible 10 years ago.