Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"The Beatles Love" by Cirque du Soleil at The Mirage, Las Vegas, Nevada

“The Beatles Love” by Cirque du Soleil
The Mirage Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada

My wife Ellen and I attended the late show on Friday, October 14, 2011.  “The Beatles Love” is celebrating its fifth anniversary and apparently continues to draw huge audiences.  I had many reasons for NOT wanting to see it.  The Beatles were a big part of growing up for me.  “Beatlemania” and the British Invasion of the early Sixties occurred while I was in middle school.  The “Abbey Road” album was released during my senior year in high school.  I had an English teacher in eleventh grade that for about a week played “Revolution #9” from the “White Album” (the whole album side of seemingly random noise) during class and we were to write about what we heard.  You get the picture: The Beatles were a big deal for me then.  As I’ve grown older and learned to play a bit of music myself, I have gained a whole new respect for the inventive, creative and unique band that The Beatles were.  I had seen Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (along with Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison) on Larry King Live when the show first opened and to a certain extent bought their explanations as to why they licensed their music for this production.  I heard Paul say that he and Ringo heard the music as if it was brand new – this newly remastered and re-ordered music.  I purchased the soundtrack CD and only listened to it once or twice.  I thought it was weird hearing the songs kind of mish-mashed together and figured this show was just another big payday for what had become The Beatles franchise.  Was I ever wrong!

Hearing this music through the sound system at                         The Mirage is worth the (staggering) price of admission alone.  There is volume without ear-splitting pain.  There is subtlety and tonal qualities I had never appreciated before.  And those harmonies!!!  Way before Graham Nash, Stephen Stills and David Crosby or The Eagles ever considered their first collaboration The Beatles were blending their voices in searing, soothing, exciting and unique harmony.  In the recent HBO movie about George Harrison, George Martin, the original producer for the group, described his dilemma when he first heard The Beatles.  “Who is the lead singer?”  He thought to himself.  He finally decided they didn’t have a lead singer (as had been the custom in pop music up until that time) they were a group and the group dynamic was the “lead singer.”

The re-mix or “mash-up” of the music itself is a wonder.  George Martin and his son Giles used original multi-track recordings, unreleased demos and concert audio to cobble together the soundtrack to “The Beatles Love.”  A segment of music may contain vocals from one song as well as a back beat, orchestral arrangement and instrumental bits from others.  The listener appreciates a certain thrill when he can identify the origins of the particular sounds: “That’s the guitar lick from ‘Revolution!’, ‘That’s the harmony from ‘Strawberry Fields!’.”

The theatrical interpretation by the 60 member Cirque du Soleil cast was nothing short of amazing.  The combination of classical and modern dance, acrobatics, speed skating, clowning and acting brought the music even more alive.  The visual effects were stunning as well.  There were video clips, streamers, a giant cloud like billowing tent which covered much of the audience, confetti, strobe lights and costumes of all description.  These interpretations of the music also highlighted the political nature of The Beatles later music, an aspect often neglected or glossed over in other retrospectives of the band. 

The absolute highlight of the show for me was the ballet performance of a single female dancer in a white dress during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”  She reads a letter throughout the dance.  Is the letter from a soldier?  Has her fianc√© or husband been killed in war?  Who knows, but the combination of the wailing guitar and the sorrowful dance was awe inspiring.

  The audience ranged in age from twenty-somethings to folks even older than us.  It’s hard to imagine, but he majority of this music is close to fifty years old.  This show seems to be bringing some of the magic that was The Beatles to another generation and recruiting another legion of folks who appreciate the music.   All in all, “The Beatles Love” was fascinating and thrilling entertainment which I am glad we made the decision to experience while in Las Vegas.

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