The Beatles’ LOVE (Part Two)
The Mirage Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas
Last week I began my two-part feature about one of the greatest adventures anyone could have when visiting Las Vegas these days. This time around, I’ve going to add in my backstage interviews with some of the show’s designers and creators, those ingenious pioneering artisans who have made the two-year-old Cirque du Soleil production The Beatles’ LOVE at the Mirage such a phenomenal experience. These are the people who, as I wrote last week, have shaped a second musical revolution, linking together the brilliance of The Beatles’ indelible sounds with the incredible acrobats, dancers and performance artists whose unearthly contributions are signature to the Montreal-based Cirque.
Theatre and set designer Jean Rabesse was given a totally blank blueprint schematic of the tigerless stage where Siegfried and Roy had held court for so many years and was told to do whatever he wanted—a designer’s dream. Like the show’s music producers Sir George and giles Martin, Rabesse wanted to go “inside the universe of the 60s from the lobby on” and thought the idea of creating a black box recording studio feeling “was a natural to put the audience in the studio with the band.”
A lot of what Rabesse created was conjured in computerized 3-D: “Other shows work with models and drawings,” he explained, “but this one had to be seen as a P.O.V. from every seat and all angles.” This result, he says, is one needs to come back “four to 10 times to see everything,” bringing a hint of the original three-ring roots of Cirque du Soleil to mind—again, thankfully, without imprisoning and domesticating wild animals.
Augmenting the inspiration of LOVE’s conceptual creator Guy Laliberte, who first conjured the idea for the production while hanging with his bud, the late-great Saint George (Harrison) himself, are incredible video projections fabricated by Francis Laporte, who admitted to me behind the scenes in his own studio that a scant two years ago he never would have had the tools to achieve the heights of visual wonder he did with LOVE.
Using mostly unearthed promotional films featuring The Beatles at their most relaxed, Laporte’s aim was to be “as timeless as possible.” This is apparent in a spectacular mounting of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” as projected letters of the alphabet float down across the screens or are projected through reams of paper dropped down onto the audience from above. “We wanted the feeling of words falling,” says Laporte. “Like a dream falling apart.”
Also contributing to the splendor that is LOVE are director-writer Dominic Champagne, concept creator Gilles Ste-Croix, creation director Chantal Tremblay, puppet designer Michael Curry (designer of the creatures for KA and Lion King on Broadway), and choreographers Hansel Cereza and Dave St-Pierre. There are also 365 fanciful costumes designed by Philippe Guillotel, colorful make-up by Nathalie Gagne (who’s invented faces for every Cirque show since the beginning), lighting by Yves Aucoin, sound by Jonathan Deans, and acid-dream props by KA’s Patricia Ruhl.
Asked about the inclusion of four children depicted without faces wearing plastic Beatles mob-headed helmets reminiscent of Devo, director-writer Champagne’s ability to conjure a personal connection with the bandmembers becomes apparent. “Remember, John Lennon was the most famous man on the planet after Jesus Christ back then,” he explains. The Beatles were as puzzled by their own fame and rampant Beatlemania as anyone else, making them feel almost invisible within the claustrophobic confines of their own celebrity.
This emphasis is also visible in the presence of one lost Chaplin-like Nowhere Man (played brilliantly by the Netherlands’ Goos Meeuwsen), whose presence is meant to reflect the loss of freedom and personal space Lennon was experiencing when he called himself a ‘nowhere man.’ “You know, for any of us,” says Champagne with a grin, “all we need is love.”
The scariest thing for me sitting among those lucky ones gathered for the opening night of LOVE two years ago was the audience dotted with ancient gray heads reminiscent of a group of subscribers gathered for opening night of A Tuna Christmas at La Mirada Civic. My immediate thought, as the walls themselves came alive with the sound of Beatles’ music cranked to full volume, was that the usual Vegas audiences might not appreciate the decibel level.
Wearing what Rita Rudner calls clothes that make her want to go up to them and say, “Excuse me, but what are you thinking?,” these are the people who leave Mamma Mia at the Mandalay Bay with their foot-long margaritas in hand as soon as the musical director hits the downbeat. But no, not this time. The minute the sounds of John, Paul, Ringo and John’s vocals filled the huge auditorium, all those old gray heads came alive, bopping and weaving like psychedelized flower children just as we did 40 years ago. Those ancient heads, you see, were my contemporaries, something that made me want to go back to my suite, melt into the pillowtop mattress and pull the covers over my own rapidly graying head.
But after dancing the night away at the wonderful party at Jet after the performance, toe-to-toe with the performers and artisans of LOVE break dancing (them, not me) til nearly dawn, I realized once again what a remarkable impact my generation has made on the world in general and the future of music in particular.
As young people continually quiz me about my days touring in Hair, booking the Troubadour in its artistic heyday, or working for Jim Morrison and The Doors, their adoration for “our” era is obvious, not like when we Boomers were kids, listening with moderately curious interest to the our parents wax nostalgic about their youth swinging to Tommy Dorsey or listening to hit 45s from Pattie Page and Rosie Clooney warbling about waltzes in Tennessee and the cost of doggies in the friggin’ window.
See, there was nothing wrong with those simpler days that also bravely led the way to our own historic musical revolution, but it was nothing like what we let ourselves accomplish in the late 60s and early 70s (before disco strip-mined the experience), bringing with us sounds that laid the foundation for the unstoppable musical freedom of today.
For all those younguns’ who worship our Boomer-years youth, you should; there was nothing like it for those of us who somehow managed to survive it. And nowhere—nowhere—will you guys be able to absorb the experience better than by heading to the Mirage to let your mind soar and your body groove to the wonder of The Beatles as though discovering them for the first time, lovingly and reverently recreated in LOVE, simply the best Cirque du Soleil production to date.
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.