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Beatles LOVE Cirque du Soleil Show Review

by February 01, 2007

For years I have told friends that any of Cirque du Soleil's shows represent the best entertainment for your dollar to be found anywhere in the world. I love concerts, theater, sporting events, and yes, a circus. And to say that Cirque combines the best of all of these events still sells them short. Cirque du Soleil stands in a class by itself. Over a year ago, when I heard that Cirque had struck a deal to produce a show based on the music of The Beatles, I was thrilled, and couldn't wait to see the result.

Many years ago, the idea for LOVE was born out of a personal friendship between Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté and the late George Harrison. In June of 2006, LOVE premiered in Las Vegas at The Mirage, and I have been dying to see it ever since. While at the 2007 CES show, the Audioholics team took time out of our busy schedule to attend a performance.

Beatles producer Sir George Martin and his son Giles Martin were brought on as Music Directors for the unprecedented project that would take the music of The Beatles and compile it into the soundtrack for a ninety minute Cirque du Soleil stage production. The Martins spent two years in Abby Road Studios constructing the music for LOVE using the original master recordings from The Beatles catalog. They combined bits and pieces of songs, alternate vocal takes, and in studio banter that resulted in the mash-up that became the soundtrack for the show. There are 25 full songs, as well as more than 100 other fragments in the production. And trust me, you have NEVER heard The Beatles like this before.

But before you purists out there freak out, take note. In interviews, the Martins have made clear that their main focus was to present an opportunity for people to get as close as possible to hearing the band play live again. "The Beatles, above all else, were a great rock band. A lot of people listen to The Beatles in a conventional way (radio, MP3 player or car, for example) but never in such a space. With the huge amount of speakers in the theatre, I think we will achieve a real sense of drama with the music, the audience will feel as though they are actually in the room with the band."

The Theater

If you have ever attended one of Cirque's resident shows in Las Vegas, you are aware of how impressive their purpose-built theaters are. They are absolutely bleeding-edge in technology. Set Designer Jean Rabasse completely gutted the existing 1,500-seat proscenium layout theater at The Mirage and focused everything towards the center of the room in an in-the-round layout. The stage has six entrance and exit points, with four tracks to carry artists and props in and out of the theater. There are four control booths, one in each corner of the theater.

As large as the theater is, there is an amazing feeling of intimacy obtained due in part to the fact that the furthest row from the stage is only 98 feet away. There are over 600 stage and acrobatic props in the show, and more impressive is the fact that most every item on the stage has a function beyond being purely decorative. There are nine lifts and eight automated tracks and trolleys that can simultaneously move 24 props, set elements or performers, and they provide the production with 140 different ways to put a performer into the air. Cirque claims that this is the most technologically advanced theater ever built, and I believe them. Yet all of this technology is largely hidden, never distracting from the performance. (Unless of course you are a geek like me, craning your neck to try and see how they can possibly be doing that, whatever that happens to be at any given moment!)

The Sound

And how about the "huge amount of speakers," you ask? In this case, "huge amount" means over 12,000 speakers in the theater! Yes, you read that right. Each of the 2,013 seats surrounding the stage (in a 360-degree configuration) is fitted with six speakers. Above the stage were speaker arrays similar to what you would see at an arena rock show. As we walked along the hallway that opened into and surrounded the circumference of the theater, we noticed acoustic panels on the walls seamlessly integrated with the decor. It was obvious that this room was all about sound.

There are eight sound system zones in the theater, each with dedicated Meyer M1D Stereo Line Arrays capable of functioning independently of one another. Each zone provides the listener with fully immersive 360-degree surround sound that can be precisely placed one foot in front of the listener or up to 80 feet away in most directions and moved in any direction.

I was anxious as I went into the show about how this would all be used. I must admit that I expected to experience all kinds of gimmicky use of the technology, but was really surprised to find that that was not the case at all. Sonically, things would go from mono AM radio speaker to arena rock show seamlessly. It was never a distraction, but rather totally immersive. I was astounded at how great this material - some of it 40 years old - sounded over a modern, high-tech sound system.

The Sights

From the moment you walk into the theater, before the show ever starts, the visuals begin to grab you. As we waited for the show to begin, Clint had already begun to assess the projectors that were in use, painting the room in color. The theatre has ten 12,000-lumen projectors for each of the two huge 2,000-square-foot panoramic screens, plus four 832-square-foot semi-transparent screens that are moved by eight motors and served by four 16,000-lumen projectors. Francis Laporte, Video Projection Designer for LOVE, claims that the projection system "goes beyond anything ever attempted in any permanent theatrical production in terms of its size, power, complexity and capabilities."

Custom software directs the flow of crystal-clear panoramic moving images projected onto 100-ft-wide screens. A key element of the programming is the time-coded system that ensures the projections’ programmed cues are synched up flawlessly with the recorded music used in the show. The system can respond in real time should that become necessary at any point during a show.

The Show

Cirque shows have always been difficult to describe. If you have seen a Cirque du Soleil show on Bravo, for example, you have not seen a Cirque show. Unless you have visited the resident productions in Orlando or Las Vegas, or been lucky enough to catch a traveling show under the Grand Chapiteau, you have not seen a Cirque show! So rather than try to describe each act or song, I decided to get each member of our team to give you a quick blurb on what they thought:

Gene DellaSala

"LOVE was everything I expected and more. The sound was mostly excellent, although at times became too loud and compressed for my taste on some of the older program material such as “Get Back” and “Help”. “Blackbird/Yesterday”, “Hear Comes the Sun” and “All You Need is Love” were sonic marvels that really highlighted the sophistication of the mastering of these classics, and just how well tuned the sound system was at the show.

When I heard each chair contained a total of 6 speakers (most of which were invisible to the naked eye), I was a bit concerned it would be too gimmicky. Within a few minutes of the opening song “Because”, I realized that they utilized these speakers correctly – for effects only. The primary sound came from above the show floor and filled the room nicely, while the entire perimeter of the show floor appeared to be lined with subwoofers. The bass was deep and powerful, but not quite as deep on “Blackbird/Yesterday” as I experienced while listening to the soundtrack on my reference system. Nonetheless, I was happy to NOT hear bass compression or distortion which is so common when attending live amplified events or the local Cineplex. The venue wasn’t overly echoey which was a welcome relief, especially since it clearly allowed you to distinguish the unique voice of each of the Beatles. Overall the sound was excellent and my only criticism was I wished they would have exercised a bit more level control.

What really stood out about this show was the connection it made to music fans, especially fans of the Beatles. I felt a tear in my eye towards the end of the show during “All you Need is Love” while the Beatles were conversing in the background and visually silhouetted. They were right there in the room joined together as if they never separated. I felt a piece of musical history unfold that will never happen again. This show revitalized my faith that the Beatles remain one of the best musical bands of all time. Should you ever doubt this, I recommend a sitting at Cirque de Soleil's LOVE. Amazing!"

Clint DeBoer

"The first thing I noticed were the dual-stacked projectors, sequenced in a double row of five - all perfectly calibrated and aligned to form a single wide screen. They pulled this off not once, but twice as a screen adorned both sides of the "in-the-round" stage. When you can get 10 projectors in perfect calibration and positioning to form a cohesive image - you've impressed me to no end. And I tried, HARD, to find a seam or color mismatch - there simply weren't any.

Projectors played a major part in the LOVE production and the technology employed was outstanding. From the opening number to the final tune, scrims were placed at strategic places throughout the floor to allow additional projectors to place images around the room as part of the show. At one point a very thin screen was pulled across the stage and dual projectors were utilized to give the (very real) impression that the Beatles were actually silhouetted, walking across the stage and having a conversation. The effect was so real that Tom (sitting to my right) couldn't understand how they did it without a screen. This was no doubt due to the projection of perfectly synced shadows and an incredibly thin membrane screen which worked just perfectly in the dim light as to appear almost invisible (I caught the screen in action later in the show or else I would be as dumbfounded as anyone).

Lighting in general was outstanding and designed in a meticulous manner to compliment wardrobes, direct attention and generally set the mood depending upon which act was taking place. The overall use of fog, lighting and special effects took the show to a level I hadn't seen since... well, the La Nouba (Cirque de Soleil) show in Orlando. "Impressive" somehow doesn't cut it."

Tom Andry

If you’ve never seen a Cirque du Soleil show... well, it’s kind of like trying to explain colors to the blind. You just have to experience it. I’ve seen a number of Cirque performances and each has been a bit different. For me, LOVE was a radical departure from the Cirque du Soleil “norm” (if that term even applies). I was afraid I’d see some of the Cirque standards (contortionists, acrobats, “clowns”, etc.) all put to Beatles music. I was sure they would integrate the music into a story of sorts, but I thought they’d use the music to tell a Cirque story.

Not the case – at all. Gone were a lot of the things you expect to see at a Cirque show. This show was about the Beatles and their music. It told of the story of the music. What was going on when the music was popular. Of course, it did it in a very “Cirque” way (through mime, caricatures, and dance) and I can’t say that I understood (or even saw really) everything that happened. I can’t say that if I saw it 15 more times I’d “get” it all. But it was very moving, very involving, and, it felt to me, very respectful of the music. Rather than trying to mold and shape the music to fit the style of Cirque du Soleil, they molded their performance to the music. It was very refreshing to see them take that sort of chance. Hardcore fans should not be afraid to see this show.

Tony Leotta

"The opening of Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE show gave me goose-bumps on the back of my neck and brought a tear to my eye. As a long time Beatles fan, I already had heard the new Beatles LOVE CD, but nothing could prepare me for the stunning display of visual effects by performers combined with an incredible soundtrack. The speakers in the headrest added to the audio effects. There were times when I was quietly singing along with the show, then felt embarrassed for the guy sitting behind me because I could hear him singing too…only to realize that it was another effect in the chair."

Conclusion

Prior to seeing the show, I had never owned Beatles records. I was pretty familiar with their material (how can you not be?), but never found myself wanting to sit and listen to them. I always used to smile when discussions began about The Beatles being "the foundation of popular music today" or "the greatest band ever," and mostly held an indifferent attitude. After seeing LOVE, I went straight out after getting home and bought the soundtrack CD/DVD-Audio combo pack, and I have been listening to it regularly. I can finally say without reservation, especially to those musical friends of mine who have grieved over the years at my lack of interest in The Beatles, "I get it." The music of the Beatles is RELEVANT, which is as high a compliment as I am capable of offering to an artist or band. The music, the recordings, the instrumentation, the lyrics, the song structures - everything - has more than stood the test of time!

I consider LOVE to be a destination event. By that I mean that it is worth building a trip to Las Vegas around. Plan a weekend in Vegas, and get tickets to see LOVE and one of the other resident Cirque du Soleil shows - KA, O, or Mystere. I promise you will not be disappointed.

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About the author:

Over the years J. has constantly found himself to be an "early-adopter," spending way too much money on "new" technologies such as Compact Disc, LaserDisc, and DVD. He is one of the few people who actually purchased (and still owns) a CORE programmable remote control (bonus points if you remember this product).

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