So many Cirques


The celebrated Montreal-based circus re-inventors Cirque du Soleil currently has five shows in Vegas (with two more on the way — one, an Elvis-themed show, the other built around magician Criss Angel).

The only Cirque show I missed this trip was Mystere, the first one (at Treasure Island), but I saw it years ago when I said I’d never be back in Vegas.

Mystere is probably the most similar to the touring shows we see here in the Bay Area. It’s a basic Cirque experience, but the company has expanded its horizons with each successive production.

Still the best all-around show is O (above) continues to be a transcendent experience. The theme is water, and the stage is a 1.5 million-gallon pool with the ability to create a dry stage or a pool deep enough for high-divers to make your heart stop when they leap from their lofty perch.

Nearly 10 years old, O is not showing its age at all and is, in fact, the most graceful and transporting show on the Strip.

The other big Cirque show is Love, which opened earlier this year amid great hoopla. Instead of the weird, New Age-y pop music found in most Cirque shows, this one uses a soundtrack by a rock quartet from Liverpool.

If you’re going to break tradition by using recordings instead of a live band, it’s probably a good thing your band is the Beatles.

It’s also a good thing to get original Beatles producer Sir George Martin and his son Gilles to come in with bounteous material from the Beatles vaults and then remaster, remix and just generally fiddle with the original recordings.

The result is a captivating sound montage that incorporates 29 Beatles tunes almost in their entirety along with bits and pieces of dozens more combined with dialogue by John, Paul, George and Ringo from recording sessions, movies and a variety of sources.

The show — at the Mirage, where Siegfried and Roy used to be before Roy was nearly killed by a tiger — has been described by its creators as a visual rock ‘n’ roll poem, and that’s exactly what it is.

Images of the ’60s, both groovy and violent, get a surreal twist as we tumble through the Beatles songbook played through a sound system that has been designed to make us feel like we’re actually inside the songs.

Two speakers in each seat’s headrest combined with a surround-sound speaker in front of each seat create a very personal sound bubble, and it would almost be worth the ticket price ($69-$150) just to sit and listen to the soundtrack in the dark.

But this is more than an incredible aural experience. Even though you’ll probably remember the songs more than the images, creators Guy Laliberte, Dominic Champagne, Gilles Ste-Croix and Chantal Tremblay have outdone themselves crafting a dazzling blend of dancing, video projections and circus acrobatics.

“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” gets a fairly literal translation, with ladies soaring over the theater (a complete 360-degree space) with strings of lights creating a trippy version of deep space.

“Blackbird” uses the two permanent video screens (attached to the wall) and the four moving screens to project images of white blackbirds against a blue sky.

The best circus stunt — the acts here feel less showy and more like fancy choreography than in other Cirque shows — comes during “Revolution”/“Back in the USSR” as hippies and gas-mask-wearing policemen use trampolines to leap over a giant British phone booth.

For those of us not on drugs, the trippy “Octopus’s Garden” number, complete with outlandish creatures from the fictional deep, sure makes us feel otherworldly.

Equally mind-bending are the two enormous, wraith-like paper puppets that soar through “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

My favorite moment of the show isn’t musical. Shadow figures of the Beatles appear projected on an almost invisible curtain. On the ground at the lads’ feet is the famous Abbey Road crosswalk. The dialogue — patched together from various audio sources — is like a comedy routine from the quartet, ending in the crossing of the street made famous on the “Abbey Road” album cover.

Of course the evening ends with “All You Need Is Love,” and if you need a surefire show in Vegas and have already seen O, all you need is Love.

The most troubled Cirque show in Vegas is Zumanity at the New York-New York hotel and casino. The company was charged with creating an adult show that really pushed the envelope of Vegas shows. So that’s what it delivered, but it was apparently too much. Apparently as many people walked out of the Zumanity as stayed, so changes were made, and it was altered.

Based on what I saw, I’m not sure I’d want to see the really dirty version. This is an enjoyably adult show that, though it has certain Cirque trademarks, is a very different experience.

There’s nudity, foul language, same-sex kissing, pretend S&M, a chaste orgy (complete with two audience volunteers) and two really terrific clowns: Shannan Calcutt and Nicky Dewhurst (above) as a freewheeling couple who do funny things with sex toys, bananas and audience members. Calcutt also does a solo bit involving her bare chest, two plastic bags and a bottle of scotch. I can’t really tell you more, but it’s hilarious, and she’s a treasure.

Cirque’s Ka at the MGM Grand was supposed to be the show that redefined the company. This one had a story (in the folksy, fantasy Lord of the Rings realm) and an extraordinary stage that seemingly existed outside the bounds of gravity.

The show is technically extraordinary, and just being in the theater (beautifully themed to look like an otherworldly oil rig or something equally as mechanical and complex) is exciting.
The story, told without words (except for some ponderous opening narration), is reasonably interesting, though many in the critics’ group found it difficult to follow.

I enjoyed Ka, though I would say it falls behind O and Love and, for sheer entertainment value, even Zumanity, which is sort of perceived to be the unloved Cirque stepchild.

Next post: Broadway West? Reviewing Las Vegas’ Phantom, Spamalot and The Producers, not to mention some well-aged Vegas cheese, Jubilee.

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