I’ve been ‘Cirqued’ and I love it
By Carol Davis
LAS VEGAS–The very first Cirque du Soleil Show my late husband and I saw was in 1987 in the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium under the big blue and yellow tent. I still have the first press packet with mimeographed sheets of paper filled to capacity with all the pertinent information listing bios, the creation of the group along with black and white photos of the then touring troupe.
Whoda thought that twenty-three years and at least ten or so cirque shows later along with some pretty slick looking press kits, DVD’s and programs that I’d still be writing about the latest gifts brought to us by the creative teams of all the different road Cirque shows locally and the permanent ones in the mega hotels at Vegas.
Just recently I was fortunate enough to have seen both “KÀ” (MGM Grand) and “Viva Elvis” (Aria at City Center). But first let me tell you that I’ve seen all but one of the Cirque shows on the Vegas Strip: (I initially missed “Believe” (Luxor); “Mystère” (Treasure Island), “O” (Bellagio), “Zumanity” (New York, New York) and “The Beatles Love” (Mirage). However, I was able to catch them on subsequent occasions. (I do love the slots as well.)
All of the above-mentioned shows (perhaps with the exception of “Zumanity.” have a similar thread running through them, i.e. a signature Cirque footprint if you will, like the clown carrying the bouquet of flowers that keeps getting bigger or the clown with the umbrella doing some clown business, gymnasts, bungee jumpers and acrobats.
There are a few codicils however. “KÀ” is the first Cirque show to ‘follow a scripted story line’ and “Viva Elvis” has more Elvis than Cirque. It comes under the Cirque name brand, but this reviewer’s take is that it is more of a tribute to ‘The King of Rock ‘n Roll’ than to the Cirque look although there are acrobats and a balancing act.
I’ve been wanting to see ‘KÁ’ since it opened five years ago and finally, the opportunity came on this last visit. KÀ is one of those theatrical experiences that bowl you over from the time you walk into the theatre to the time you leave. The theatre is huge; I felt almost ant like walking to my seat.
The ceilings are so high (149 feet from the top to bottom) and the lighting (there are over 3,300 lighting fixtures) is rigged in barrel looking cages on poles that extend from floor to ceiling that I couldn’t help but keep looking up throughout the show.
Technically the production is such an eye popping wonder that the story of Royal Twins coming of age and the dangers and adventures they face becomes almost inconsequential and at times difficult to follow as one escapade after another ensues. But here’s a brief rundown: Royal Twins at a festival on a Royal Barge are celebrating their coming of age with martial arts exhibitions, Wushu Chinese Opera and Brazilian Capoeira. Unbeknownst to everyone on the barge, they are all in immediate danger from archers and spearmen.
The Nursemaid leads the Twin Sister off the barge to a boat escaping the enemy but a huge storm shipwrecks the ship. In the meantime the Twin Brother who is wounded by the archers’ arrows is left behind on the barge. What can I say? Both Twins are subjected to the one giant problem after another as they embark on their separate but parallel journeys. There’s a blizzard, several fights, steep cliffs that have to be conquered and scaled, brief captivities, slave cages, forest people, beach animals and finally triumph!
The skinny though is that the spectacle called KÀ is just that. This epic fantasy that traces love and conflict through a plethora of challenges cost about $165 million to mount.
Between creator and director Robert Lepage, creative director Guy Caron, theatre and set designer Mark Fisher, costume designer Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt, composer and arranger René Dupéré, choreographer Jacques Heim, lighting director Luc Lafortune, sound designer Jonathan Deans, and the list goes on, the show boasts a Sand Cliff, (one of the major performing spaces that measures 25×25 feet and weighs 80,000 lbs. and is supported and controlled by a gantry crane with 4 giant mechanical arms attached to 4 75 foot cylinders ) high wire performers, videos, illusions both in the water and out and a Tatami Deck that measures 30×30 (another performance space) and weighs 75,000 lbs. and can slide forward fifty feet KÀ is in all probability the most expensive and unique of the Cirque shows.
The costumes (there are 15 wigs, 400 pair of shoes and it took 35,000 hours to make one complete set of costumes), makeup, sound effects scenic, lighting, special effects (120 fireballs are discharged), puppets (10 larger than life and 21 miniature with a snake over 80 feet long) and video projections make KÀ an event that I would consider a must see at least once.
Remember “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Burning Love”, “Got a Lot O’ Lovin’ To Do”, “One Night”, “All Shook Up”, “Hound Dog” and the first time Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show? You might be about my age or a tad younger. It matters not, it was somewhat of a happening anyway.
Elvis appeared on the Sullivan Show in 1956 gyrating and hip grinding his way to causing a television sensation. It is reported that he was paid the enormous sum of $50,000 for three appearances on Sullivan. Over 60 million viewers watched the show. No wonder Elvis Presley Enterprises and CKX Inc and Cirque du Soleil partnered to mount “Viva Elvis” in 2010 the year of Elvis’ 70th birthday. What a tribute to a superstar who combined pop, country, gospel, Black R&B and challenged ‘the social and racial barriers of the times’.
What “Viva Elvis” lacks in the overall Cirque look, it makes up for in the energetic dancing and musical numbers. I was impressed that the creators Vincent Paterson (writer, director, co-choreographer), Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo, Mark “Swany” Swanhart, and Catherine Archambault (all credited choreographers), director of creation (Armand Thomas) artistic guide (Gilles Ste-Croix) and musical director and arranger Erich Van Tourneau did not use Elvis impersonators but used instead actual projections and recordings of the King himself mixed with live voices and merged the two mediums as singers sing along with Elvis. Lord knows there are more then enough Elvis impersonators walking around Vegas.
“Viva Elvis” is the seventh show of the Cirque brand and it is more of a celebration of his life and music than say “Love” (of the Beatles show) is. There is no context to understand. They are what they are and every song highlighted is danced and performed inside out by a youthful troupe of splendid dancers and an ace rock band with a brass section that brings the house down, to accompany them.
Most of the numbers performed are popular enough for everyone to lip sync; the big surprise is what’s done with them. “All Shook Up” is a gospel number, “One Night’ is beautifully choreographed by a pair of aerialists in a ballet like performance suspended from a giant steel guitar depicting the coming together and then separation of Elvis’ still born twin brother. “Blue Suede Shoes” uses a gigantic Blue suede Shoe 29 feet long and weighing 1.500 lbs. It has a slide in the middle and is a perfect vehicle for the dancers.
It has its share of acrobats and gymnasts and “Got a lot O’ Lovin’ To Do” in particular, featured a trampoline act that went on forever. The performers are dressed in as superheroes as in the Marvel Comics that were his favorite reading material as a youngster. Several of the props are authentic restored antiques and the large hoops in which the acrobats performed, were inspired by ‘Elvis and Priscilla’s actual engagement rings’.
Overall if you are a fan of Elvis and or love a musical show that’s lively and upbeat, you’ll enjoy this one especially if you go with the knowledge that this is more a tribute to the man than anything else. All the bases are covered and all the musical numbers are performed to perfection.
One more thing, the seats in the Aria Theatre are very comfy. If you are able to get close up and personal, they are couch like and roomy, kind of like sitting in your own living room.
See you at the theater.
Davis is a San Diego based theatre critic.