Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cirque and Beatles Make Love

“Love,” the new Cirque du Soleil show built upon the Beatles’ music previewed a few select scenes yesterday (no pun intended) for the press. What I saw seemed very preliminary.While talking to Cirque founder Guy Laliberté afterward, it was clear that he considers this show a real break from Cirque’s circus tradition into uncharted waters. In truth, nothing I saw would surprise Cirque fans. This is going to be a Cirque show to a Beatles soundtrack instead of the mix of New Age and world music the troupe favors. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the aesthetics of Cirque and the Beatles are closer than most would imagine. Particularly, the band’s more psychedelic music seems a natural fit for the acrobats landing in Cirque’s surrealistic pillow. Also, Cirque and the Beatles both celebrate creativity and humanity in equal measure.The show begins public previews at the beginning of June, and officially premieres at the end of the month. The group is famous for making drastic revisions during the preview process, so nothing I saw should be regarded as definitive. And much seems still to be worked out.Take a simple question like is the song “Yesterday” going to be in “Love”? Beatles producer George Martin told me, “We agonized for ages over whether we should put ‘Yesterday’ in or not. On the one hand, people would get offended if it weren’t in there. On the other hand, it has been heard so much we shouldn’t put it in. There was that argument. I am not going to tell you if it is in or not. But in the end we arrived at a very good consensus of opinion about what it should be.”Laliberté was slightly more specific. Asked if “Yesterday” will be in “Love,” he said, “At this point there is a little moment of it. We use some songs for transition. This is not ‘the Best of the Beatles.’ This is where we are going to surprise people: We tried to go with songs that were supporting the storyline.”Nothing in the preview fragment suggested a storyline and so I wondered, what is the story of “Love”? According to Laliberté, “This is trying to create a visual environment that is a direct link with the lyrics of the songs. When we create there is a narrative story, but it is not a play in the sense of ‘Phantom.’ We create a storyline with each of the songs of the Beatles. So we look at all the lyrics and put them in a certain order where it carries on through a story.”The fragment I saw, which included “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” offered a sense of the look and choreography of “Love” but no real feeling of the finished show. That said, I loved the in-the-round theater and the amazing stage, which like the one in “Ka” can collapse and alter its geometry to create a variety of stages. The sound system is going to be the best on the Strip. It features a speaker in every seat and is as sterling as any Beatles fan could hope for.One complaint was too much ’60s imagery. Psychedelic clothes, colors and dancing have dated far more swiftly than the music. It is time to move them apart. At the post-presentation press conference, everyone paid lip service to the timeless quality of the Beatles’ songs. But I wish Cirque had fully resisted period costumes and anything that recalls the look of the musical “Hair.” Sadly, that is not the case. Still, Boomers are so caught up in their generation’s relationship to the Beatles that this taste of the ’60s may be inevitable.But in the end, I am not at all sure yet what “Love” is going to wind up being when it is ready to open. If the goal was to intrigue with this fragment then Cirque has done its duty.


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