Las Vegas is, after all, one of America's top showcases of live entertainment. Cirque du Soleil's The Beatles LOVE is a combination of the cinematic, operatic, and theatrical, along with the acrobatic, aerial, ballet, puppetry, projections, lighting, costuming to put Liberace to shame, and more, all presented with circus-like panache. As soon as you get into the uniquely designed Mirage Theater in the round, with its scrims and screens for projecting 100-foot digital images, you can, like "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," "Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies."
Once the show begins, "somebody calls you... A girl with kaleidoscope eyes," into a production that's more an experience and evocation of the Beatles, their music and philosophy, than a chronological narrative of their lives and careers. The Fab Four's longtime producer Sir George Martin and his son Giles culled cuts from Abbey Road Studios' master tapes which accompany the visual storytelling of 60 performers and projections on huge front and back screens, played on a panoramic surround sound system.
The beginning references the quartet's famous outdoor, impromptu performance on the rooftop of the Abbey Road Studio in 1969, with "Get Back" from the "Let It Be" album. But the unfolding spectacle becomes far more than a reimagining of this concert. Soon the gigantic twin screens are filled with imagery of the Battle of Britain, and for the first time it dawned upon me that the Lads from Liverpool were all children born during World War II; indeed, both Ringo Starr and John Lennon were born while the Nazis blitzed England. LOVE made me realize that this played a huge role in their subsequent antipathy toward war. It gives greater depth to Lennon's antiwar anthem, "Give Peace a Chance."
The show doesn't shrink from other specifically political references: There's a great flower power sequence, which leads to hippies fighting riot police as "Revolution" blares. Another one of the Beatles' explicitly political songs, "Blackbird," is also played as clips of Dr. Martin Luther King appear onscreen and Black performers take the stage.
There was much more to the Beatles than countercultural politics. LOVE was very much their concern; there's an exceedingly evocative conjuration of "Something" from the "Abbey Road" album. Female aerialists elude an earthbound male, who reaches out for them as if he's seeking love, perfectly expressing the romantic longings of a young man in search of a partner to soothe a seething soul and end his solitude. The piece has the grace of a Nijinsky or Nureyev ballet.
Along with all the big hit numbers, Love includes some lesser-known Beatles tunes. Everyone knows "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," but do you remember "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" from the same LP? This track is ideal for Cirque, which launches into full raucous circus mode in evoking this perhaps forgotten song about a festive fair. There is also a powerful version of "A Day in the Life," complete with a car onstage, from the same album.
"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is appropriately psychedelically rendered, complete with flying trapeze artiste. But I didn't get all of Cirque's interpretations. After a while I picked up that the four boys who were recurring stage characters represented the future Beatles during their childhoods. Other recurring figures, I'm not so sure. Somehow this only enhanced the magical, mystical nature of this tour through the artistry of what is arguably rock's all-time greatest band. (Has it really been half a century since they stormed The Ed Sullivan Show during the British Invasion of 1964?!)
The ensemble work bubbles, with all the theatrical skills and tricks on display. Above all, the Grammy Award-winning soundscape rendered by George and Giles Martin, sound designer Jonathan Deans, and last but not least, by John, Paul, George, and Ringo, is nothing short of exquisite.
There is one moment when Cirque does something startling with the set (which of course I wouldn't reveal) to make the audience and performers "Come Together" and attain a sense of the oneness and cosmic consciousness the Beatles strove for. Never has Sin City seemed so blissful. Yeah, yeah, yeah!
The Beatles LOVE is at: The Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Blvd South, Las Vegas, NV. For info and tickets: http://www.mirage.com/entertainment/love.aspx, (702) 791-7111.