Last year, I wrote about the Beatles album Love, an astonishingly brilliant mash-up of Beatles songs crafted by George and Giles Martin. That album is the soundtrack to a Cirque Du Soleil show of the same name, which appears in only one place in the world: the Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Well, when I knew I would be going to Vegas, exactly a year after writing about Love for the first time, I seized the opportunity to see the show.
I’m finding the experience of the show very difficult to put into words. Here are the words I gave it in an email I sent that night:
Oh my god, I think it may have been the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t stop crying. Seriously, I must have cried through like 70% of it. I kept thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
Why? Well, a big part of it had to do with sound. I’ve never heard anything like the sound in that theater. They built the theater at the Mirage especially for this show. There are something like 6,000 speakers in it. Every seat has speakers embedded invisibly, including a speaker that faces the seat behind it. Hearing the incredible sound collage of Love in that theater… it feels like being inside the music. No, that’s not it. It felt like the music was inside me. I’ve been to plenty of concerts, including some where I was seated in the front row, directly in front of the band, hearing them play. This was different. The music was everywhere, not just in front of me, with pieces separated out — some close, some far, but all incredibly crisp and clear. It was perfect. It sounded perfect — like a sonic diamond. It would have been a moving experience just to sit in that theater and listen to the album, with no show at all.
But of course, there was a show. This was my first (and only) Cirque show, and it had what Cirque is known for: acrobatics, feats of daring, movements so graceful and gorgeous you can hardly believe they’re possible. “Humans in the service of beauty” should be their motto. And all of that was wonderful, and thrilling, but it wasn’t what was causing the tsunamis of emotion in me, or at least not in itself.
There was something remarkable, though, about seeing those movements synchronized with music that I love. Sometimes, the bodies on stage gave physical expression to the soaring, giddy feeling that was in me, inspired by a particular sound or lyric. Or a hopeful feeling, or a loving feeling, or sorrowful, or whatever. In a DVD extra to All Together Now, a documentary about the show, Yoko says, “Beatles were like acrobatics of the mind, and Cirque Du Soleil is the acrobatics of the body. When it comes together, it makes a kind of… something that’s whole.” She’s absolutely right. The other crucial quote from the film is from Dominic Champagne, director of the show: “You know, bodies go. George Harrison is dead, but we can really say that his spirit is with us, and we gave a body to that spirit. All together.”
It seems ridiculous to even try describing the various pieces of the show in any detail. It’s even worse than the old “dancing about architecture” bit, because the show is already dance, and theater, and art, about music. Not to mention, my powerful emotional reaction to it all makes me keep reaching for superlatives in a way that feels authentic to write, but I suspect is rather tedious to read.
So I’m not even going to try anything like a systematic recounting of the show, but instead just mention a few things that resonated intensely with me, and that remain strong memories of the show:
- The kids: For whatever reason, I just did not expect there to be kids in this show. The way they were used just blew me away. Since becoming a parent, I’ve gotten rather softhearted about children as symbols. Consequently, seeing them sit in happy meditative poses in front of a huge ball of candles for “Here Comes The Sun”, or rocket towards the sky on a bed whose billowing sheet envelops the audience in dreamy atmospherics, or scramble through the rubble of the Blitz, was quite moving for me.
- The imagery: Champagne calls the show “a rock and roll poem”, which aptly captures its astute use of imagery. Rather than just a greatest hits dance performance, or a musical homage, or, as I had originally imagined it, “a bunch of guys in tights, swinging from trapezes, forming human pyramids, and so forth”, the show is actually an evocation of some of the most important emotions woven into Beatles music. It does this with a deft use of images. Liverpool just after World War II — crumbling or destroyed brick edifices, exploded further by youthful energy. Groupies and Beatlemania — a girl with a dozen legs, frenetic in her movements. Longing and disappointment “As My Guitar Gently Weeps” — letters raining from the sky onto a solitary dancer. Lucy in the sky with diamonds — twinkling LED stars hang down everywhere, illuminating the swings and arcs of a trapeze artist.
- The voices: I don’t just mean the singing, though that was breathtaking, especially the a capella voices of “Because.” But beyond that, at several points in the show, Beatle shadows are projected onto screens or hanging muslin, and they move in sync with recordings of the Beatles talking, from studio sessions or casual chatter. Combined with the amazing sound quality, this produced an amazing feeling of intimacy, like you were right there with them. It was an especially wonderful surprise because those sounds are not included on the album.
I could go on, and on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that if The Beatles hold a special and sacred place in your heart, as they do for me, Las Vegas has just become your Mecca. You must go there and experience Love in that theater, at least once in your life. I don’t know that everyone else will feel what I felt, though if you love the Beatles I suspect you will. For me, it was elevation, suffused with spiritual transcendence and love. If there’s such a thing as heaven, I hope it feels like that.