The crowds by the barriers at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas were already forming by early Wednesday afternoon for the fifth anniversary performance of Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles show Love – and for the first time in a long time the stars and their representatives would be in attendance. It’s actually not quite the fifth anniversary yet – that’s due later this month – but this was the week Sir Paul McCartney was passing through Vegas for his tour.
Love – it probably would have been more accurate to call it There Will Be a Show Tonight on Trampoline, but that’s a little bit long by Cirque du Soleil’s standards – has been an extraordinary success so far: It’s played to upwards of four million people so far, for up to $150 a head. The pop music dream was once to have a regular gig in Las Vegas, a crowd that would appreciate you for the entire span of your career. Elvis Presley’s already got his own Cirque du Soleil show, Viva Elvis; later this year, Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour begins. (And you can bet every other major pop musician’s handlers are trying to figure out how they can set up something similar.)
A lot of what Love has going for it, though, is unique to the Beatles. George and Giles Martin’s ingenious remixes and mash-ups of the band’s catalogue – 130 songs turn up, one way or another, in the show’s hour-and-a-half duration – take for granted that the audience knows the entire Beatles repertoire inside and out, and take it as their task to make that repertoire fresh. (There are three speakers in each of the theater’s 2,000-odd seats; it sounds fantastic.) And the entire visual presentation of the show riffs on Beatles-related imagery, from the constant presentation of elements in groups of four to the black-topped white balloons that recall Beatle haircuts.
It doesn’t hurt that the Beatles’ iconography, by extension, includes basically all of pop culture from 1963 to 1969 or so, and that in America it includes the idea of British people as exotic aliens: having ticket-takers dressed as bobbies and ushers dressed as Buckingham Palace guards makes sense for this show in Vegas the way it wouldn’t in London.
Not all of the show has aged well: the “Lady Madonna” sequence, involving a dancer with a pregnancy prosthesis, is a head-scratcher at best. But most of it remains an extraordinary spectacle, with acrobats and aerialists and dancers flying all over the place, more happening at any moment than it’s possible for anyone to track. (It helps that Cirque du Soleil has a lot of performers to whom the normal rules of gravity don’t apply.) When the opening bars of “La Marseillaise” announce the curtain-call, “All You Need Is Love,” it really does sound like a call to rise for a national anthem.
Before the show itself began, the notable members of the audience were introduced: McCartney (looking like he was born six or seven years after the Beatles broke up), Yoko Ono with Sean Ono Lennon, Olivia and Dhani Harrison, and Sir George and Giles Martin, as well as various Cirque du Soleil upper-echelon types. Ringo Starr, who’s currently on tour in Europe, sent a video greeting (which included his now-signature “peace and love” twice). After the show, the special guests briefly came up on stage. Yoko Ono spoke at some length in praise of Olivia Harrison’s advocacy for the project; McCartney, who appeared to have gotten another five years younger over the course of the show, declared that it was “still the hottest thing in town.”
A band that broke up 40 years ago and still packs in the crowds for 10 shows a week: that is pretty hot.