Beatles' Vegas show came together through friendship

After attracting more than 4 million attendees to its 2,400 performances, the Beatles and Cirque du Soleil celebrated today’s fifth anniversary of their Las Vegas collaboration, “Love,” earlier this month at the Mirage Hotel and Casino. In the audience were Paul McCartney (with fiancee Nancy Shevell), Olivia and Dhani Harrison, George Martin, Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon.

Several key players of “Love’s” creative team — director Dominic Champagne, Cirque president-CEO Daniel Lamarre, and Beatles recording producer Martin and his son Giles, who created the soundtrack for the show from the Beatles’ original recordings — sat down with Variety to recall the development of the show.

“Love” began in the friendship between George Harrison and Cirque founder Guy Laliberte, who, after meeting the Beatle at an annual party, suggested the two develop a project together, based on the musical world of the Beatles.

Harrison died in 2001, but the show development continued. “In his absence, we had to carry the ball,” Champagne says. “We had to prove George’s idea was a good one.”

The idea stemmed from the ever-present question of when are the Beatles going to get back together. “We said, ‘We have to play it as if the Beatles were giving the show.’ ”

They decided early on to avoid sound-alike musicians, so, says Giles Martin, the team knew they would have to base the music on the group’s original recordings. The trick was, he notes, “How do you get around not making people think they’re just listening to the CD? So we thought, ‘Let’s try and do a concert that was never performed. Let’s do a gig that never happened, by using the tapes.’ ”

Fortunately, the quality of material from those original recordings is still quite staggering. George Martin says: “Next year will be the 50th anniversary of my meeting them. We’re listening to recordings made nearly 50 years ago. And they still sound incredibly good.”

Bits of Beatles studio chatter from the original sessions are also interjected throughout the show. “It’s a way to give the audience the feeling that we are within the intimacy of the Beatles chatting with each other,” Champagne says.

With the exception of two songs — “Come Together” and “Blackbird” — which were reworked not long after the show’s premiere, “Love” has essentially stayed the same.

Giles Martin still visits the production four times a year to check on the sound, and, as one would expect, there is an occasional rotation of cast members. “When you bring in new cast, it always brings a new personality, a new tonality, to the show,” Lamarre says. Rookie cast members are helped along by veterans, such as 27-year-old dancer Charlotte O’Dowd, who has been featured in the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” segment for all five years. “There is something very specific that the director — and the Beatles — wanted to be the main focus,” she says. “And that can easily be lost over time. So, in terms of movement and intention, we really try to pass that along to new artists.”

The success of “Love” has prompted Cirque to develop other shows based on iconic pop music figures — the year-old “Viva Elvis” and an upcoming one based around the music of Michael Jackson. “Five years ago, we had a lot of pressure, a lot of people second guessing whether we would have success with ‘Love,’ ” Lamarre says. “One month after this show, the people from Elvis were calling me, saying, ‘Can we do something?’ ”

What has made it a success, says Olivia Harrison, is the combination of elements — Beatles and Cirque du Soleil. “When you hear the music and see Guy’s (Laliberte) vision, it really is a collaboration between two very different media — the visual and the aural. That’s a synchronicity that you cannot force.”

Ono agrees. “Beatles music is so good and so solid that it can take anything and make it even greater. And Cirque du Soleil did a fantastic creative job,” she says. “It’s beautiful.”

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