Las Vegas Theater Review: VIVA ELVIS (Cirque du Soleil at The ARIA Hotel at CityCenter)

by Tony Frankel on November 10, 2010

in Theater-Las Vegas

Post image for Las Vegas Theater Review: VIVA ELVIS (Cirque du Soleil at The ARIA Hotel at CityCenter)

THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES
(OR IN THIS CASE, THE KING’S)

While awaiting Viva ELVIS, Cirque du Soleil’s new Vegas extravaganza in the exquisite and luxurious new theatre at the ARIA Hotel, my excited expectation turned to finger-crossing trepidation when actresses portraying Bobby Soxers began milling through the audience and climbing over seats in their attempt to hype us into a state of frenzy with, “Elvis is coming.” Unmagical, unscripted, unfocused, and unfunny.

I wondered if this pre-show was indicative of things to come. The opening number, “Blue Suede Shoes” confirmed my suspicion: In front of a giant jukebox, 30 dancers, 24 acrobats, 4 singers and an 8-piece band buoyantly boogied and bounced in abundance; some played on a slide in the shape of – can you guess? – an enormous blue suede shoe (which, by the way, looked like someone had donated $50,000 to a high-school to construct this prop). It was so frantic, incoherent, and imprecise that insouciance was all I could conjure up – an indifference that rarely wavered throughout Viva ELVIS. It is one big head-scratching, shoulder-shrugging Vegastravaganza.

Incongruously, in the quest to come up with something new, the creative team at Cirque decided to go with the tried-and-true: They took pieces of pies from previous productions, threw them together in vignettes inspired by moments in the life of Elvis Presley and came up with a questionable dessert that becomes stale before the first piece is even ingested. From aerobatics to trampolines (like early Cirque shows); from recognizable tunes to a beefed-up soundtrack (like The Beatles LOVE); from a cast of nearly 80 to overblown sets (like later Cirque shows), everything old is old again. Even if you get the tickets half-off, be wary. Like a pie that’s been sitting in the bakery thrift shop window for a week, this show won’t taste any better because it’s on sale.

Sure, a few segments worked well: I quote from the press notes: “In ‘One Night With You,’ an epic-sized guitar, a symbol of Elvis’ love of music and his larger-than-life persona, serves as an imaginary playground for Elvis and his twin brother Jesse Garon, who died at birth.” Surrounded by a starry sky, two splendid athletes climb about a massive skeletal guitar (reminiscent of Monkey Bars) that is suspended in air; a female sings a duet with a piano and the voice of Mr. Presley himself (wisely, men do not sing his songs, only women). The effect is lovely.

Still, there were shades of Natalie and Nat Cole singing together. Even in this charming moment, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had somehow experienced all of this before. The fragmented event that is Viva ELVIS painted (or shimmied) its way into a corner; it could only be as good as the individual fragments on display, most of which were mind-numbingly uninteresting, even to the point of producing ennui.

Case in point: Since Elvis was a fan of comic books, the Cirque served up a segment with seven stylized super-hero street performers on a Super-Sized set “who defy gravity in a stunning cavalcade of synchronized jumps.” Yes, a tantalizingly tedious trampoline treat! Who can naysay such masculine prowess as a mash-up of different Elvis rockers resonates over a sound system that is no doubt capable of reaching another galaxy? Well, after 90 seconds (and without any subtext beyond a love for Super Cirque), “Gotta Lotta Lovin’” feels profoundly drawn-out and disconnected. It has nothin’ to do with the King.

The main explanation for this disjointed hodgepodge is the hiring of Vincent Paterson to direct, co-choreograph, and write Viva ELVIS. Paterson has had a long, illustrious career, but his focus has been as a choreographer (Tony nomination for Kiss of the Spider Woman), which explains the inordinate amount of dancing that is more reminiscent of Dancing With the Stars on steroids than original Broadway fare. As a director, his career concentrated on music videos and commercials. Well, watch 90 minutes of even the best music videos on VH1 and tell me if you’re not numb.

And what device did Paterson come up with to tie these vignettes together? We are spoon-fed Elvis’s life by a folksy, innocuous Col. Tom Parker (Elvis’s long-time manager) who seems more like a conductor on the Disneyland Railroad. He floats on stage in an overstuffed (there are no accidents) armchair with dialogue as challenging and insightful as a recipe for Elvis’s favorite eatin’: peanut butter and bananas. “He was a shy, simple country boy who dared to dream.” Yech.

Sure, Elvis dared to dream, but it felt like the creators of this misshapen mishmash were playing it safe with a $50 million budget. In his program notes, Director of Creation Armand Thomas basically tells us that because Elvis had the gall and the courage to innovate, because he took risks to create a truly unique phenomenon, because he didn’t play it safe, he became a legend – which makes him, according to Thomas, a perfect match for Cirque du Soleil. But, as Elvis found out, being a legend comes with a cost, and maintaining it can be lethal. Could it be that Cirque, despite its beginnings as mere street performers, has become a corporate machine? The show at hand parades as a tribute to Elvis – when it actually feels like a tribute to Cirque du Soleil. (Maybe the show should have been titled Viva CIRQUE!)

In trying to please everybody – Elvis fans, Cirque fans, Vegastravaganza fans, nostalgia fans, and jukebox fans – it ends up being the proverbial stew that not only has an incomprehensible taste but is awfully hard to swallow. This, of course, will not keep an overstuffed nation (already hooked on gobbling up innutritious fast food) from scrambling around Vegas to find the best discount coupons to a show that they shouldn’t be eating in the first place.

The fact that a middling show like Viva ELVIS runs indefinitely no longer confounds me. Mediocre entertainment, largely due to the proliferation of its availability, has become commonplace, largely drowning out breathtaking, brilliant, and original works. We don’t notice that we live in another cultural dark age because technological images are hurled at us with the speed of light; we are incapable of focusing on one thing long enough to judge its merit. Thus, when mediocrity is placed before us, we mistake it for brilliance – simply because we have nothing better to compare it to.

My guess is that Elvis fans will either accept this show with dispassion, or hate it. Those who love it (there will be a few) remind me of the late Fred Ebb’s lyrics from Chicago: “Give ‘em the old Hocus Pocus / Bead and feather ‘em / How can they see with sequins in their eyes? / Razzle Dazzle ‘em, and they’ll never catch wise.”

Cirque du Soleil could be a leader in a cultural Renaissance that is so desperately needed right now. Give us heart, give us story, give us hope. But hire a writer first.

Listen to the CD of LOVE, Cirque’s take on the Beatles which is having a healthy run at the Mirage; you will notice that the soul of the Beatles was in their music. Elvis brought soul to pop music. Without Elvis himself, this whole circus act falls flat. Who knows how long this turkey can stay in the oven? Luckily, you can get out of the building before Elvis does.

photos by Julie Aucoin

Viva ELVIS
Cirque du Soleil
Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas
ends on August 31, 2012
for tickets, visit Cirque du Soleil or Aria

ready

VIVA ELVIS ™ – Cirque du Soleil – The ARIA Hotel at CityCenter – Las Vegas Theater Review

THE EMPORER’S NEW CLOTHES (OR IN THIS CASE, THE KING’S)

While awaiting Viva ELVIS ™, Cirque du Soleil’s new Vegas extravaganza in the exquisite and luxurious new theatre at the ARIA Hotel, my excited expectation turned to finger-crossing trepidation when actresses portraying Bobby Soxers began milling through the audience and climbing over seats in their attempt to hype us into a state of frenzy with, “Elvis is coming.” Unmagical, unscripted, unfocused, and unfunny.

I wondered if this pre-show was indicative of things to come. The opening number, “Blue Suede Shoes” confirmed my suspicion: In front of a giant jukebox, 30 dancers, 24 acrobats, 4 singers and an 8-piece band buoyantly boogied and bounced in abundance; some played on a slide in the shape of – can you guess? – an enormous blue suede shoe (which, by the way, looked like someone had donated $50,000 to a high-school to construct this prop). It was so frantic, incoherent, and imprecise that insouciance was all I could conjure up – an indifference that rarely wavered throughout Viva ELVIS ™. It is one big head-scratching, shoulder-shrugging Vegastravaganza.

Incongruously, in the quest to come up with something new, the creative team at Cirque decided to go with the tried-and-true; they took pieces of pies from previous productions, threw them together in vignettes inspired by moments in the life of Elvis Presley and came up with a questionable dessert that becomes stale before the first piece is even ingested. From aerobatics to trampolines (like early Cirque shows); from recognizable tunes to a beefed-up soundtrack (like ——————–The Beatles LOVE); from a cast of nearly 80 to overblown sets (like later Cirque shows), everything old is old again. Be wary, even if you get the tickets half-off. Like a pie that’s been sitting in the bakery thrift shop window for a week, this show won’t taste any better because it’s on sale.

Sure, a few segments worked well: I quote from the press notes: “In ‘One Night With You,’ an epic-sized guitar, a symbol of Elvis’ love of music and his larger-than-life persona, serves as an imaginary playground for Elvis and his twin brother Jesse Garon, who died at birth.” Surrounded by a starry sky, two splendid athletes climb about a massive skeletal guitar (reminiscent of Monkey Bars) that is suspended in air; a female sings a duet with a piano and the voice of Mr. Presley himself (wisely, men do not sing his songs, only women). The effect is lovely.

Still, there were shades of Natalie and Nat Cole singing together. Even in this charming moment, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had somehow experienced all of this before. The fragmented event that is Viva ELVIS™ painted (or shimmied) its way into a corner; it could only be as good as the individual fragments on display, most of which were mind-numbingly uninteresting, even to the point of producing ennui.

Case in point: since Elvis was a fan of comic books, the Cirque served up a segment with seven stylized super-hero street performers on a Super-Sized set “who defy gravity in a stunning cavalcade of synchronized jumps.” Yes, a tantalizingly tedious trampoline treat! Who can naysay such masculine prowess as a mash-up of different Elvis rockers resonates over a sound system that is no doubt capable of reaching another galaxy? Well, after 90 seconds (and without any subtext beyond a love for Super Cirque), “Gotta Lotta Lovin’” feels profoundly drawn-out and disconnected. It has nothin’ to do with the King.

The main explanation for this disjointed hodgepodge is the hiring of Vincent Paterson to direct, co-choreograph, and write Viva ELVIS™. Paterson has had a long, illustrious career, but his focus has been as a choreographer (Tony nomination for KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN), which explains the inordinate amount of dancing that is more reminiscent of DANCING WITH THE STARS on steroids than original Broadway fare. As a director, his career concentrated on music videos and commercials. Well, watch 90 minutes of even the best music videos on VH1 and tell me if you’re not numb.

And what device did Paterson come up with to tie these vignettes together? We are spoon-fed Elvis’ life by a folksy, innocuous Col. Tom Parker (Elvis’ long-time manager) who seems more like a conductor on the Disneyland Railroad. He floats on stage in an overstuffed (there are no accidents) armchair with dialogue as challenging and insightful as a recipe for Elvis favorite eatin’: peanut butter and bananas. “He was a shy, simple country boy who dared to dream.” Yech.

Sure, Elvis dared to dream, but it felt like the creators of this misshapen mishmash were playing it safe with a $50 million budget. In his program notes, Director of Creation Armand Thomas basically tells us that because Elvis had the gall and the courage to innovate, because he took risks to create a truly unique phenomenon, because he didn’t play it safe, he became a legend – which makes him, according to Thomas, a perfect match for Cirque du Soleil. But, as Elvis found out, being a legend comes with a cost, and maintaining it can be lethal. Could it be that Cirque, despite its beginnings as mere street performers, has become a corporate machine? The show at hand parades as a tribute to Elvis – when it actually feels like a tribute to Cirque du Soleil. (Maybe the show should have been titled Viva CIRQUE™!)

In trying to please everybody – Elvis fans, Cirque fans, Vegastravaganza fans, nostalgia fans, and jukebox fans – it ends up being the proverbial stew that not only has an incomprehensible taste but is awfully hard to swallow. This, of course, will not keep an overstuffed nation (already hooked on gobbling up innutritious fast food) from scrambling around Vegas to find the best discount coupons to a show that they shouldn’t be eating in the first place.

The fact that a middling show like Viva ELVIS™ runs indefinitely no longer confounds me. Mediocre entertainment, largely due to the proliferation of its availability, has become commonplace, largely drowning out breathtaking, brilliant, and original works. We don’t notice that we live in another cultural dark age because technological images are hurled at us with the speed of light; we are incapable of focusing on one thing long enough to judge its merit. Thus, when mediocrity is placed before us, we mistake it for brilliance – simply because we have nothing better to compare it to.

My guess is that Elvis fans will either accept this show with dispassion, or hate it. Those who love it (there will be a few) remind me of the late Fred Ebb’s lyrics from CHICAGO: “Give ‘em the old Hocus Pocus / Bead and feather ‘em / How can they see with sequins in their eyes? / Razzle Dazzle ‘em, and they’ll never catch wise.”

Cirque du Soleil could be a leader in a cultural Renaissance that is so desperately needed right now. Give us heart, give us story, give us hope. But hire a writer first.

Listen to the CD of LOVE, Cirque’s take on the Beatles which is having a healthy run at the Mirage; you will notice that the soul of the Beatles was IN their music. Elvis brought soul TO pop music. Without Elvis himself, this whole circus act falls flat. Who knows how long this turkey can stay in the oven? Luckily, you can get out of the building before Elvis does.

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Julie Aucoin

running indefinitely at time of publication

for tickets, visit http://arialasvegas.com/viva-elvis/

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rosa July 11, 2016 at 8:41 am

Viva Elvis!!! It was a beautiful show, I will like to see again in the future with my family!!

Reply

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