Wednesday, December 20, 2006

All You Need is Love

Like many people my age, I love the Beatles. Among my most prized possessions is a numbered print of an early Beatles portrait taken by Dezo Hoffman, which I bought in an art gallery several years ago. I also have a framed copy of “Goodnight Vienna” that Ringo Starr signed while visiting Tim’s radio station. My favorite Beatles poster, which I bought when I was nine years old, has hung in every one of my homes since 1963.

I consider myself more “fan” than “fanatic,” but I do remain a Beatles “purist”—that is, I prefer their studio recordings as they appeared on the albums sold in the US. I can barely stand hearing their songs played live, let alone covered by someone else. Bottom line: don’t mess with the Beatles.

It was quite a surprise, therefore, when I immediately fell in love with an acoustic version of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” while listening to “Breakfast with the Beatles” a couple of weeks ago. Turns out the song was a cut from “Love,” the soundtrack to Cirque du Soleil’s tribute to the Beatles. The show has been playing in Las Vegas for several months, but I really had no desire to see it until I heard the music. As soon as the song ended, I picked up the phone and bought a ticket to the show. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as I was already going to Vegas to attend a wedding (see blog posting 12/17/06).

I suspected the wedding reception would run long, so I made a reservation for the 10:30PM show. Sure enough, I barely had time to put my feet up back at the hotel, before I was hailing a cab to take me a half-mile down The Strip to the theater. Nine dollars later, I found myself strolling through the Mirage looking for “Love.” When I asked the bell captain for guidance, he pointed in the general direction of the casino. At first, I got distracted by the Revolution bar, a sleek affair decorated in updated 1960s furniture, but then found the box office, where people were already starting to queue up for the show.

I was more than an hour early, so made my way over to the Beatles gift shop, strategically placed right outside the theater. I must say that this was some of the best Beatles merchandise I’ve ever seen: interesting t-shirts and other high-end, artsy wares. I could have easily spent several hundred dollars buying memorabilia, but instead settled on an oversized, limited-edition crystal plate decorated with the Sergeant Pepper emblem. I asked the saleswoman, who was thrilled to meet me, to hold it until after the show.

By now, people were milling around the lobby, buying concessions and listening to Beatles music played overhead. The audience (mostly baby-boomers) waited anxiously for the doors to open. Some sang quietly to themselves; others, like the guy next to me, danced in place. Finally, the ushers (dressed like British bobbies) directed us inside.

The stage looked a lot like the big tent Cirque du Soleil sets up when it visits Los Angeles. The theater was bowl-shaped with seats surrounding the proscenium. Four floor-to-ceiling scrims divided the space into quarters. I was worried that my view would be blocked, but, of course, the scrims were raised as soon as the action began. Beatles music played as people poured in.

While I was sitting there, a rather important-looking man came over and started chatting with an older couple behind me. Apparently he was the stage manager because he was soon regaling all who listened with stories of how this had previously been the famous Siegfried and Roy theater. “The tigers were kept in cages right under where you’re now sitting,” he embellished. “They had to dig down six floors to get rid of the animal smell. It STUNK in here!”

The bobby-ushers came around to warn us not to grab at anything that might project above us during the show (!) And then suddenly the lights went down and the show began.

Although there’s no real plot, the storyline loosely follows the Beatles’ lives and music, starting with their childhood during World War II and ending with “Hey Jude.” We saw screaming fans, a pregnant Lady Madonna, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and a circus for “The Benefit of Mr. Kite.” “Octopus’s Garden” was filled with luminescent jellyfish, squids and fluttering seaweed. Acrobats performed amazing fetes on trampolines for “Back in the U.S.S.R.” But the most memorable acts, by far, were those performed to George Harrison’s songs. “While my Guitar Gently Weeps” was especially moving, with delicate four-story-tall puppets swaying gracefully to the music. I almost started weeping myself.

And then it was over. Most of us seemed to float toward the doors. True fans (like me!) were draped in the red crepe-paper shot out into the audience during the grand finale. In a daze, I picked up my crystal plate at the gift shop and headed toward the taxi line, which was surprisingly subdued.

I had a hard time falling asleep that night with John, Paul, George, and Ringo singing in my head. “Love is old, Love is new...”

Long live the Beatles!


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