Cirque du Soleil Interprets the Fab Four

The long awaited Cirque du Soleil production called Love opens this weekend at the Mirage in Las Vegas. The show brings together two powerhouses in popular entertainment: the world famous acrobatic troupe from Canada and the music of the Beatles.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

I don't know, Prime Minister Koizumi sang it pretty well too.

The long-awaited Cirque du Soleil production called LOVE opens this weekend at The Mirage in Las Vegas. The show brings together two powerhouses of popular entertainment: the world famous acrobatic troupe from Canada and the music from The Beatles.

The 90-minute show uses a soundtrack of songs re-mastered and remixed by Beatles producer George Martin and his son, Giles. It's slated for a ten-year run, which should allow it to more than make up the reported $150 million it cost to produce.

Jonathan Storm saw the show earlier this week in preview. He's a critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and joins us now by phone from Las Vegas. Good to talk to you again, Jonathan.

Mr. JONATHAN STORM (TV Critic, The Philadelphia Inquirer): Hi, Neal.

CONAN: And is this spectacular as it sounds?

Mr. STORM: It's really wonderful. Its not - I wouldn't call it spectacular compared to some of the other Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas. There's not as much jaw-dropping athleticism and contortionism and so-forth. But it's just -it washes over you. Its dance, aerial shenanigans - it's just really impressive.

CONAN: In addition to that athleticism you talk about, and the jaw-dropping moves, Cirque du Soleil is also known for effects, and I understand Octopus' Garden was one of your favorites in this show.

Mr. STORM: It really bothered me that my favorite thing was stupid Ringo's stupid Octopus' Garden. But sitting in this huge theater with, I don't know how many people, 2,500 people, you had the feeling that you were under the sea in an octopus' garden.

It was just - it was uncanny. The best part of it, I think, was they had people dressed in some sort of costume with gravity defying fabric, and they'd drop them down 20 feet on these big ropes and it looked like anemones in the ocean. And you just had the feeling that you were in this - the water was above you, and almost that it was - you were surprised almost that you could breathe.

CONAN: In the unlikely event we get one or two stupid Ringo e-mails, can we forward them to you?

Mr. STORM: Oh, I love Ringo, man. He's a great one.

CONAN: How did this show get started?

Mr. STORM: Well, it apparently - the head of Cirque du Soleil, a guy named Guy Laliberte, which I think he probably made up, got to be friends with George Harrison. And they were just, you know, they met up and started talking and the idea that the Cirque du Soleil could do some sort of surrealistic impressionistic visual take on The Beatles' music started. And George subsequently died. But the whole thing, Apple Core and The Beatles are one million percent behind this thing. It really is a collaboration.

The people who own the show are called the Cirque Apple Creation Partnership for LOVE.

CONAN: And I understand the theater in which they're doing this show used to be the place that housed Siegfried and Roy.

Mr. STORM: Yes, it was. No tigers to kill you in this one, but cars fly around.

CONAN: We're talking with Jonathan Storm, Philadelphia Inquirer critic, about the show that opens in a couple of days, Jonanthan?

Mr. STORM: I think it opens tomorrow, actually.

CONAN: At The Mirage, in Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil's presentation of LOVE, a Beatles Spectacular. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Now, what about this re-mastered soundtrack? People are very persnickety about their Beatles tunes.

Mr. STORM: Well, it's all Beatles all the time, and if you like a certain version of a song, it might be slightly different than the one you're used to. The thing that really hits home, at least to somebody of my age. I was almost the perfect person for The Beatles, I was 17 in 1964. There's a lot of outtakes and banter from recording sessions and they've rearranged it. And then they use - four guys in shadow as well as video projections on sort of gossamer screens, and you really have the feeling that The Beatles are their with you, talking to each other and their personalities - you know, the wisecracking but slightly acid tone of John and the kind of bland Paul and George and - you really have a feeling that these guys are in the theater. It's stunning.

CONAN: And the re-mixed music, does it sound good?

Mr. STORM: Oh, it's fantastic. They have - even have speakers on each side of your head in the seats. It's just - one of the best bits is, you know, Blackbird.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STORM: Singing in the dead of night. Take these lonely wings and learn to fly. And they have four guys, you know, dressed up as blackbirds, who come down, flop on the ground. And the men, they don't, there's no music at all. This guy sort of recites it. That's a sort of a comedy bit. Very funny.

CONAN: What about - not all of The Beatles' tunes were up and fun numbers. Eleanor Rigby, did the try that?

Mr. STORM: Eleanor Rigby is the first song that opens the show. The show is basically - and Father McKenzie is constantly - comes back into different numbers. And then there's this sort of this devilish figure who is sort of battling with Father McKenzie. But the idea - the basic idea of the show is it's the life of The Beatles.

They have little kids in the show...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STORM: Lady Madonna, it comes later on, a different kind of piece, and different kids, but the same thing. And it starts out with the World War II bombing scenes. They have video all around the back of the whole theater.

CONAN: Of Liverpool in the old days, yeah.

Mr. STORM: It just follows - it's a very, very, very minimalist thread that follows through, but it's very - it's fascinating. The costumes take it very well, as well.

CONAN: So does it follow the Beatles chronologically, and then we end up with them, as, of course, world famous figures at the end?

Mr. STORM: It's not exactly like that. No, towards the end, there's a point where, I think I'm - I'm getting a little confused. One of the young Beatles is being put to bed, and this is towards the end of the show, and his mom goes up to heaven.

CONAN: Wow.

Mr. STORM: So it's not a, you know, it's not the Maharishi, and it's the typical - it's not a bio show by any means. It's the typical impressionistic, emotional kind of visually exciting but not necessarily logical stuff that the Cirque du Soleil. A lot more dancing this time, a lot more running around and maybe fewer pyrotechnic tricks.

CONAN: Well, speaking of pyrotechnic tricks, though, they do get a lot of opportunities for that. What about Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?

Mr. STORM: Well, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, you're sitting there in the dark and all these lights just drop down and they're almost, you can almost reach them. Little tiny lights and they all start flashing at different times, and then there's strobe. And, I mean, you almost don't need your acid to get off on the Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds piece.

Then there is Lucy up there in a sequined thing, and, you know, she's a fabulous aerialist and acrobat. It does, if you let it, if you sit back and sort of zone, it can really carry you away pretty nicely.

CONAN: Hmm. Jonathan Storm, thanks very much. Sounds like you had a good time.

Mr. STORM: Oh, it's great, Neal. I can't recommend this show enough. And usually I'm not quite as effusive about things.

CONAN: We'll have you back next time you're feeling curmudgeonly. Jonathan Storm writes about TV, generally, for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and he spoke with us today by phone from Las Vegas.

Ira Flatow will be here tomorrow with SCIENCE FRIDAY. We'll see you Monday. I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”)

The BEATLES (Musicians): (Singing) Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds...

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