Remaining Beatles gather to celebrate 10th anniversary of Cirque du Soleil’s Love show

Revamped with more personality and better tech, the musical continues the legacy of perhaps the most famous pop band of all time

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 July, 2016, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 July, 2016, 12:01pm

The performance of Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles Love show ended as most of the 4,500 performances over the past 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 the July 14 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”.

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“Thank you all for being here,” McCartney, 74, said after a spotlight illuminated him and his former bandmate, the 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 that now boasts technical and other enhancements that weren’t possible 10 years ago.

Not to disappoint the numerous Beatles 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.

Love spawned consistently laudatory critical reviews at its opening in 2006 and over the past decade has been a commercial powerhouse as well: nearly 8 million people have seen Love, according to Cirque officials, establishing an average attendance of about 88 per cent capacity.

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.

That has changed with the new iteration of Love, the focal point of this month’s star-studded event that also drew Lennon’s son Sean, Harrison’s son Dhani 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 celebrities.

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 on 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 to collaborate one more time, the mission to see it to fruition took on extra emotional heft after Harrison’s death from cancer in November 2001.

“The refresh came from Dominic [Champagne, the writer-director of Love] and I saying we could make the show better,” 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 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.”

Martin added: “One thing we realised despite our criticisms, 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 the second world war from bombing by the Germans, the harsh living conditions after the war, and the birth of 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: lonely Eleanor Rigby and Sgt. Pepper as well as creatures that might inhabit fanciful locations such as Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and the Octopus’s Garden.

Cirque created a world inspired but not populated by The Beatles, using the soundtrack created by the Martins, 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 The 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 realise 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. 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.

“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.”