“Love” — as the Beatles told us in 1967, it’s pretty much all you need. And over the past 10 years, through more than 4,500 performances of Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas show of the same name, inspired by — and featuring — the music of the Fab Four, close to 8 million people have gotten what they need. But as it enters its 11th year, fans are getting a new look.
The show has been given a “refresh,” thanks to its director, Dominic Champagne, and music director, Giles Martin, who, along with his father, the late George Martin, created the Grammy-winning soundtrack to the show.
“Giles and I sat down and watched the show two years ago, as we began to think about some way to celebrate the 10th anniversary,” Champagne says. “But we decided to try to be tough on the show that we loved so much, and ask ‘How can we make this show better?’”
The keyword, says Martin, is “more vibrant, mostly visually.” Every song — with one exception, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” — has had its choreography revisited, some titles extensively. “I Am the Walrus” was removed entirely in favor of “Twist & Shout,” which better suited the emotion Champagne had sought to bring out in the early part of the show — the fever that rock ’n’ roll induced into a healing Britain during the post-WWII period in which the Beatles were growing up. “Dominic wanted it to feel infectious, this new rock and roll music that came from the underground, a glimmer of hope that these people looked to to forget about the hard times, post-war” says choreographer Tabitha D’umo.
She and her husband, Napoleon, known collectively as Nappytabs, also staged revamps of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Hey Jude.” The team took a stab at “Let It Be” in place of the latter, though as Tabitha D’umo notes, “We went back to ‘Hey Jude’ because it just felt like the right uplifting way to bring the show to a close.”
Adds Champagne: “Paul [McCartney] even said, ‘I could end my show with ‘Hey Jude,’ but I would never end it with ‘Let It Be.”
“Revolution” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” were re-choreographed by one of the show’s dancers, Ghislain Ramage, and head coach Dan Niehaus.
Many songs now take advantage of an augmented projection system, which uses the stage as a projection surface. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” now features dancer Eira Glover interacting with a projection of a missing dance partner, courtesy of an animated figure created by dancer Dandypunk, “who we discovered was also a gifted video designer,” Champagne says. “Now we have this lover dancing with a virtual partner, who appears and disappears — we’ve created a wonderful 3D forest for her love story that never happened.”
|Fixing the Whole: New choreography graces the routine for “Here Comes the Sun.” Courtesy of matt beard|
“Lady Madonna” similarly makes use of floor projection, says operations production manager Paul Reams. “In the old version, we had projection up on our panoramic widescreens on the walls. Now, the images are on the stage floor, a water puddle, and the performer interacts with the projected water, triggering a splash and ripple effect.”
“Octopus’s Garden” features Ringo Starr himself inside a water bubble in some projected imagery, as part of an underwater scene with three sea creatures, which interact with the performance artists, operated from the hidden ceiling grid. “There’s a lot of LEDs and glowing items, to give you the experience of a luminescent glow of an underwater space,” says Richard Amiss, the show’s head of props.
The show was dark for two weeks earlier in the year, debuting most of the changes in February. Nappytabs worked with the artists and director to build acts, first starting, as in the case of “Twist,” with dancers, and incrementally adding acrobats into the “acrodance” number to create the feverish tone Champagne sought.
“We’ll start working in one of the training rooms, to begin to get the general shape of the act,” says acrobat Jon Meehan. “And from there, we’ll take it on stage, breaking it down into segments until the whole number is built,” staying constantly aware of hazards posed by set pieces and fellow performers in their midst. “It is quite a dangerous show. So you’ve got to be aware of what’s going on around you.”
The changes took place over several months, as the creative team and performance artists juggled building the acts in the first half of regular show days, while still delivering two full shows in evenings, five nights a week. “They were doing two full shows on the existing set, as well as working 1½ or two hours on the new set,” Niehaus says. “So they were delivering three shows a day, plus their regular daily training.”
The changes and updates still deliver the same message, Champagne says. “The Beatles were the four apostles of this huge smiling, peace and full, full of dreams decade. For us, it was a matter of, ‘Let’s get back to this big smile and this love story and story of joy. It’s the same foundation, but there’s now a little springtime in our ‘Love.’”