The performance of Cirque du Soleil’s “The Beatles Love” show ended as most of the 4,500 performances over the last decade have: A packed house of 2,000 gave a standing ovation for the dozens of cast members, who took bows while traversing the circular stage at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Suddenly, however, the cheering grew even louder as ticket holders responded to an exceptionally rare coda to the show. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr stepped onstage at the conclusion of Thursday’s official 10th anniversary celebration of the hit collaboration between the French Canadian circus troupe and the band that famously “changed the face of pop music as we know it.”
“Thank you all for being here,” McCartney, 74, said after a spotlight illuminated him and his former bandmate, the two surviving members of the Fab Four, accompanied for the event by John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and George Harrison’s widow, Olivia Harrison, as well as several other family members and friends who took in the performance. “This new version of ‘Love’ is beautiful.”
He was referring to a recently revamped rendition of “Love” that now boasts technical and other enhancements that weren’t possible 10 years ago.
Not to disappoint the numerous Beatle fans young and old in the house, McCartney and Starr bantered playfully with each other and with the fans. “I loved watching,” Starr, 76, said with an easy laugh, and both expressed their pride and gratitude to the performers who bring the show to life each night.
The one big difference between “Love” and the rest of what the Beatles gave the world during their continually evolving eight-year recording career is that the Cirque show remained relatively stable during its first decade.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier edition of this post listed George and Olivia Harrison’s son Dhani Harrison among the attendees. Dhani Harrison was unable to attend because of prior commitments.
That has changed with the new iteration of “Love,” the focal point of Thursday’s star-studded event that also drew Lennon’s son Sean Ono Lennon; “Love” musical producer Giles Martin, the son of the Beatles’ longtime producer George Martin, who died in March; writer-director Dominic Champagne; actor-director Ron Howard, who is working on the forthcoming Beatles documentary “Eight Days a Week”; and various other celebs.
“Love” has “evolved,” a word many of the show’s creators like to use, and today features more of the Beatles’ personalities themselves. The alterations to the show are musical, structural and technological, and constitute a gamble for a production that “was not a broken show in any way,” as Martin put it in an interview with The Times.
Chief among the changes: Audiences now see images of the Beatles incorporated into many numbers. There’s footage of McCartney singing “Yesterday,” Starr’s face floats in an air bubble during the rendition of “Octopus’s Garden,” Lennon’s face appears during “All You Need Is Love” and Harrison is reunited with his bandmates in different numbers.
The collaboration between the Beatles and Cirque du Soleil that produced the “Love” show in Las Vegas was initially pegged for a 10-year run. But the production, much like the Fab Four themselves, has proved to be an enduring force.
It was clear from the outset that “Love” wasn’t your garden-variety Las Vegas entertainment diversion focusing on glitz and spectacle. It premiered June 30, 2006, with many of the Fab Four’s most beloved songs often radically reimagined in mash-ups created by the father-son Martin team.
Because the project originally was conceived in the late 1990s by George Harrison and Cirque co-founder Guy LaLiberte as a way for the surviving members of the group to collaborate one more time, the mission to see it to fruition took on extra emotional heft after Harrison’s death from cancer in 2001.
“The refresh came from Dominic [Champagne, the writer-director of ‘Love’] and I saying we could make the show better,” Giles Martin said. “We don’t want to rest on our laurels. There were a couple of things in the pacing of the show we weren’t happy with, so we went back and looked at it very critically and came up with a list of things of changes we wanted to make.”
The creative team felt that “this show needed to be revamped,” Olivia Harrison said in a separate interview, relaxing in a room backstage a few hours before the performance. “Ten years is a long time, especially today, when everything moves so fast.”
She and Ono took on much of the heavy lifting of overseeing the creation and execution of “Love” and have closely monitored the show over the years.
For Ono, the new version brings immediacy to the central message embodied in the Beatles song that still closes the production, “All You Need Is Love.” That message sounded that much louder to all concerned Thursday on the day of another deadly terrorist attack, this one in Nice, France.
“This is a new step forward for the Beatles, not a repeat at all,” Ono, 83, said in another backstage interview. “It’s really showing how intelligent they are to bring love in this big, big way, because right now the whole world is suffering because of a lack of love. They have pointed out that the word ‘love,’ just like the word ‘imagine, is going to keep us going forward. I think it’s a beautiful turn.”
Right now the whole world is suffering because of a lack of love.
“One thing we realized despite our criticisms,” Martin added, “is that we didn’t want to break the heart of the show. It still gets standing ovations most nights, so we don’t have a broken show in any way.”
Keepers of the Beatles legacy said they have relaxed over the years from their initial reluctance to inject too much of the Fab Four’s personalities directly into the production.
In the original version, that resulted in a more impressionistic creation. It still evokes the destruction the four lads experienced in their native Liverpool during World War II from bombing by the Germans, the harsh living conditions following the war into which they soon introduced their music after the serendipitous meeting of young rock ‘n’ roll-loving musicians Lennon and McCartney at a church picnic in 1957.
Rather than directly referencing the members of the band, the show has turned the spotlight on a multiplicity of characters from their songs: the lonely Eleanor Rigby, Father McKenzie and Sgt. Pepper, as well as creatures that might inhabit fanciful locations such as Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and the Octopus’ Garden.
Cirque created a world inspired, but not populated, by the Beatles, using the soundtrack created by the father-son Martin team, who were given carte blanche by the four Beatles “principals” — McCartney, Starr, Ono and Harrison — to explore and explode the group’s original recordings into new forms.
“The thought process behind this was not to present the Beatles as they were then, but to have Beatles in the room with you,” Martin said. “That was my intention, that was my dad’s intention. We knew we would have to be careful not to present a biopic of the show.”
In the new iteration, “Yesterday” has become more of a showcase for McCartney stretching his musical wings, while Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” puts one of the Cirque dancers in a pas de deux with fluid lines of animated movement and shapes that are based on many of Harrison’s own drawings, Olivia Harrison said.
“From a very personal perspective,” Champagne said in a separate interview, “I felt like who I was 10 years ago, to pretend I could be the captain of this flagship of Beatles and Cirque du Soleil putting a show together. There’s been so much trust. I think everyone felt we were intended to realize the dream of George Harrison, who wasn’t there to push the idea. I felt we had a mandate sent from an angel or a ghost somewhere.
“I remember quite purely that in Paul’s mind, in Olivia’s mind, it was George’s show that we were doing,” Champagne said. “Slowly and slowly it became our show.”
On a technical level, the evolved “Love” incorporates technological developments of the past decade to employ effects that didn’t exist in 2006, Martin said. A reported $100 million was spent customizing the theater from its previous incarnation as a home to animal trainers Siegfried & Roy.
The word “vibrant,” was invoked by several members of the creative team. It’s hoped the refresh will continue to draw new audiences into the group’s music.
“The Beatles were always ahead of themselves,” Olivia Harrison said, “and it’s the same with the show. We were trying to master something that wasn’t able to be mastered at that time. The tools that are available now have allowed the show to become what we all thought that it was going to be in the beginning. I think now it’s completely right.”
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