If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I write about all sorts of stuff, not just parenting (though as a single dad with three kids parenting is pretty much always on my mind!), including some of the shows that I have a chance to see as I travel around. About a year ago I got to see Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles LOVE, and wrote an extensive review on this blog [see Review of Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles: LOVE].
I was back in Las Vegas a few weeks ago for the Consumer Electronics Show, and my friend Jessica who works at Cirque sent me tickets to see The Beatles LOVE again, and it was just as wonderful and entertaining as last time, if not more so since I had more of a sense of what was going on.
This time, though, I paid attention to what on my film blog I’d call the “story arc”, the order in which scenes and acts were shown on stage. Given the backstory of the Fab Four, it was considerably more insightful and thoughtful than I expected…
The show starts with a remixed version of The Beatles song Because (actually, all the music is remixed by Sir George Martin, original producer for The Beatles, and his son Giles Martin). The story starts with a sort of idealized Victorian England, pre-war, back when, figuratively and literally (in the case of the Cirque performers), Englishmen could ascend to the very heavens. Emphasizing the nostalgic yearning of the English for those golden days when Rule Britannia really did encompass the globe, the next number is Get Back, a pastiche of forward and backward: it evokes nostalgia but also features a stylized rendition of the Beatles’ farewell concert. Endings and beginnings.
You can’t get back to the glory days of Great Britain without the trauma of The War, ambiguously seeming to be WWI at times and WWII at other times. We experience London being bombed and the horror and destruction of being on the receiving end of the bombs while Glass Onion is played and the troupe (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) is destroyed, to be reborn as the show proceeds. I found interesting parallels with John Lennon’s silly but poignant film How I Won The War in this act, and of course all four of the Beatles were profoundly affected in Liverpool during WWII and its aftermath.
Thus ends the first major act of The Beatles LOVE. We’ve experienced the innocence and unmitigated chaos of wartime England and the post-war difficulties and confusion. The boys grow up and by the time the 60s roll around, they’re a nascent band, traveling to Hamburg Germany to play in clubs and learn their craft.
This is the first point in the show when we see the Beatles as stars, with fans, girls falling for them, and their sense of bewilderment about the hoopla and craziness. For the band itself, this was a heady time (think of their wonderfully innocent film A Hard Day’s Night) where they were superstars and could do no wrong, except when their hubris got ahead of itself (remember John in 1966 saying “we’re more popular than Jesus” and then having protesters burn Beatles albums?)
Act Three. The mid-60s arrive with the transition from Teddy Boys, leather coats and poodle skirts to all-out psychedelia, with its saturated colors, paisley patterns and garish clashes of styles. All to say in as many ways as possible “Up The Establishment!” For The Beatles, this was a period of experimentation with drugs and some dabbling in Eastern religions, visits to India, and so on. In the Cirque performance, we finally meet Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in context with the curious song Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite, along with a cirque circus. One of the most visually complex numbers of the entire show, there’s so much to see that it’s visual overload, just as the late 60s were a sort of cultural overload as society reinvented itself and love became free after an eternity of it having a very obvious and judgmental price tag.
Rested, we go back into the era with Strawberry Fields Forever and Nowhere Man, as Sgt. Pepper’s Band keeps making appearances, as individuals and as a group. This parallels the beginning of the end for the band too, as John began to explore his own path, one that was with Yoko, not Paul, George and Ringo.
Ends are beginnings of new phases, of course, which is punctuated by the pregnant Lady Madonna – one of the most joyful numbers in the show – followed in quick succession by Here Comes the Sun and Come Together. But it was too late at that point for the band to come back together, and the last numbers move towards the more esoteric, addressing the tensions of the times with the Cold War (Back in the USSR, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, A Day In The Life).
Finally, show creator Guy Laliberté reminds us that we should celebrate what was, and what will come, not be sad at the breakup of the band with Hey Jude “take a sad song, and make it better…” and All You Need Is Love.
So why bother with this? Why look at the sequence of the songs and numbers? Because, as with any good film, play or book, there’s a reason that things happen in the order they do. In the right order, a story unfolds with highs, lows, and an ending, and so it is with Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles LOVE. Through the astonishing performances, breathtaking sets and terrific reinterpretation of dozens of Beatles hits, we travel on the journey that took four waifs from war-torn Liverpool, England to the top of the world, into the clouds, and back to Earth, on their own paths.
The show is well worth watching even if you don’t know anything about Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, but the more you know about the story of the Beatles and the era within which they were such a powerful voice, the more I think you can truly appreciate the brilliance that is The Beatles LOVE.
It’s terrific, and if I have the chance, I’ll go see it again. And again.