When you think about it, Cirque du Soleil and the Beatles were always a match made in heaven. Expressionism, otherworldliness, acid trips … the Beatles might have founded Cirque if they were French instead of British, and studied acrobatics instead of playing guitars.
“The Beatles – LOVE” by Cirque du Soleil at the Mirage Hotel and Casino does a few things right from the get-go. Chiefly, the show is choreographed to the original tracks. Cirque-style techno-pop covers of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” would not do. The songs may have been remastered for optimal fidelity, but these are recognizably the original album cuts released by the Fab Four in the ’60s, cranked up loud and lending ethereal anachronism to Cirque’s heady modernism.
So here we have a Cirque du Soleil take on Beatles singles. Like all Cirque shows, plenty of the vignettes trade on the superhuman physical abilities of top-notch acrobats. “Help!” gets a death-defying tandem half-pipe act on roller skates. “Revolution” is interpreted by tumblers on giant red trampolines leaping and flipping over and on top of matching British phone booths. A male acrobat makes a graceful display on a weighted ladder mounted to push cart wheels during “Lucy In The Sky with Diamonds.”
Other numbers are straightforward ensemble floor choreographies, costumed in swingin’ ’60s technicolor outfits. These dance sequences range from the clownish (“Twist and Shout“) to the festive (“I Wanna Hold Your Hand“) to the dazzling (“Hey Jude.”) The latter dance number is augmented by trapeze artists with twirling red umbrellas dangling from their feet. Props, settings, and costumes seem pieced together from found objects, in a good way. Oh, and anytime “Hey Jude” is played loudly in a crowded room, a massive sing-along will ensue.
Some of the expressionist touches are a little too on-the-nose. During “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” a female trapeze artist swings from the rafters in a diamond-studded outfit. The only way that could have been lazier would be if she wore a nametag that read “Lucy.” The same vignette, though, kicks off with the haunting imagery of a bed lifting off the ground, surrounded by flowing sheets, as if to bear the actor in the bed through the clouds and off to dreamland.
Other vignettes see Cirque in top form not just in terms of talent, but also in thematic power. The choreography to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” features falling rose petals, a sad uniformed man with a cello, a lonely and frightened girl in a pixie cut clutching a piece of paper, all played out beneath a large and ghostly humanoid puppet made of sheer scarves tied end-to-end.
The expressionist choreography of “Blackbird” is the showstopper, with Paul McCartney‘s nursery-rhyme lyrics and acoustic composition embodied by a child’s tricycle, pedaling around the stage with no occupant except for an empty pair of tiny galoshes on the pedals. The curious details of this animatronic set piece (robotics? remote control?) are rendered irrelevant by the emotional cannonball lurking in this twee practical effect, whether you read it as a representation of lost innocence, or a heartbreaking meditation on the loss of a child. This is Cirque du Soleil at its best – conjuring magic through physicality, adding altitude to some already-lofty source material.
Verdict: More than a nostalgia show, and more than mere Beatlemaniac fan service, “The Beatles – LOVE” by Cirque du Soleil at the Mirage Hotel and Casino is a magical mystery tour into the beating heart of the Beatles‘ ouvre. Help! indeed.