The Beatles’ LOVE (Part One)

The Beatles’ LOVE (Part One)
The Mirage Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

 

TICKETHOLDERS

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In a backstage studio space deep within the bowels of the Mirage that once housed Siegfried and Roy’s infamous tigers before and after performances, complete with ominous scratch marks remaining along the captives’ hallway path and the remnants of the bolts that once fastened their cages in place still visible on the walls, acrobats now soar to the high ceiling of the room on long vertical ropes while rehearsing for Cirque du Soleil’s fifth and most celebrated permanent Las Vegas attraction, The Beatles’ LOVE.

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Unlike those overly trained and obviously unhappy white-striped beasts of yore, helpless to say whether they wanted to be here or not all those years, these airborne human artisans from around the globe aren’t just practicing how to soar like Lucy in the Sky. In keeping with their “Here Comes the Sun” number, 21st in the show’s 28-songcycle running order, these performers have honored a song written when The Beatles were into their metaphysical-transcendental stage by fiercely researching and diligently studying a mix of yoga techniques and Eastern Indian dance—whether or not they tried a couple of tabs of Clear Light they aren’t saying, but if they wanted my advice…

Let’s just say commitment here among the 62 castmembers, as well as the multitude of backstage artists and technicians pushing the LOVE payroll to about 200, is a given. Bowing at every turn to the Fab Four’s groundbreaking sound, Cirque du Soleil and MGM-Mirage have joined forces with Apple Corp Ltd. to stage a magical mystery tour all their own, miraculously engineering new life into some of the 20th century’s most enduring music. In the process, they have shaped a second musical revolution, not unlike the one originally bursting forth from this same music, by bringing together the brilliance of the most imaginative and successful composers of our time with the most innovative troupe of performance artists working anywhere today.

Cirque du Soleil has reinvented this bizarre town over the past 14 years or so since Mystere took the infamous desert oasis by storm (Wayne Newton has never been the same) and now LOVE now joins Mystere, KA, Zumanity and “O” on the roster of permanent Cirque shows dominating and selling out months in advance along the Strip. As much as I have written in glowing, suitably mesmeric phrases about the Cirque over those past years, may I say nothing—nothing—could equal LOVE? Seeing it performed is a once in a lifetime experience, even for worshipful Cirque du Soleil groupies like me.

When LOVE debuted at the Mirage in the summer of 2006, the opening was somewhat overshadowed by the presence of Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison joining remaining bandmembers Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney (who answered all questions rather dourly and monosyllabic, perhaps due to recent events in his personal life back then). The celebs in town for the premiere were as thick as the red carpet on Oscar night, but the most incredible part of my week spent in Vegas to cover the event was meeting and talking to Sir George Martin, the octogenarian original producer of all The Beatles’ albums and, along with his son Giles, co-musical director of LOVE.

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Legendary Beatles’ producer Sir George Martin and his son Giles Martin

Working for the last two years on this project, the legendary Sir George admitted it was “thrilling” even for him. Not content with creating a “retrospective or tribute show,” the Martins insisted instead on bringing to each of the 2,013 audience members the personal experience of being in a small recording studio listening to the music for the first time.

In their sound studio high above the stage that Sir George calls an “exact replica of Abbey Road Studios… so much so we felt like laboratory hamsters whenever we moved something,” the Martins practice their signature sorcery. “Our mission was to try and achieve the same intimacy we get when listening to the master tapes at the studio,” Sir George explained. “The songs sound so alive. A lot of people listen to The Beatles in a conventional way—radio, MP3 player or car, for example—but never in such a space as this.”

LOVE’s massive theatre-in-the-round setting has been drastically restructured and is completely unrecognizable as the former glitzy arena where Roy so often wanted to make Siegfried disappear for real before ol’ Montecore almost took care of that for him in October of 2003. Creating a kind of directional panoramic mode, achieved by embedding two speakers in the back of every seat, the sounds of LOVE engulf the audience and, as Sir George believes, afford “a real sense of drama with the music, [making] the audience feel as though they are actually in the room with the band.”

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This is made more unique since the master tapes utilized were not “designed for a record,” not mined from the old classic albums or concert performances, but cut during the boys’ stints in the studio making small promotional films. Often featuring improvised quips as they goofed off and joked casually with one another, the final mix offers, as Sir George reasoned to me with infectious, childlike enthusiasm,  “such an immediate sound… not ‘muffly’ like with so many shows in rooms this size.”

Unlike previous Cirque du Soleil productions, LOVE is more a celebration of the era in which The Beatles soared, and the designers and creators have done everything in their power (and they have a lot of resources from which to draw) to recall that global phenomenon known as Beatlemania.

Beginning with real live Nowhere Men shuffling alone onto the stage to reluctantly visit a modest “Nowhere Land,” four scrim-obscured sides of the 360-degree experience soon open grandly into a brave new world. Acrobats dressed as sailors scale ropes leading from a deep pit around the stage to the rigging high above, twirling around the dismal scene of WWII-torn Liverpool, the exact time when John Lennon was born during the last Blitz. As brick walls burst and four small mop-topped children cower in their beds, the chillingly omniscient voices of The Beatles fill the enormous space to harmonize their glorious a cappella classic tune “Because.”

All the Beatles’ familiar invented characters are present onstage, including Eleonor Rigby, Father McKenzie, Sgt. Pepper, Lady Madonna, Mr. Kite, and the Walrus, as the chronology of The Beatles’ music journeys from the early eager goofy enthusiasm, through the drug and meditation eras, and on to a spectacular finale of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

The 90-minute E-ticket ride is like nothing anyone has ever seen before, thanks to the creators’ ability to make it alternately imposing and surprisingly intimate. Populated not only with typical Cirque aerialists and gymnasts (ranging in age from 9 to 72), but with street performers, ballet artists, hip-hoppers, tap and break dancers—some pulled right off the curb who’ve never even been in a stage show before—there could not be a greater or more devoted homage to the colossal talents of The Beatles than LOVE.

Nest week: LOVE from a backstage point of view…

Tickets for LOVE are available at The Mirage or any MGM-Mirage box office in Vegas, online at www.mirage.com, or by calling (800) 963-9634.


TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com

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