The Story Behind Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles LOVE

cirque love logoIf 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.

cirque beatles love yesterday

The Pathos and Nostalgia of Yesterday

 

Post war, the destruction and rebuilding are relived with Eleanor Rigby, and punctuated by I Am The Walrus. This era really represented the childhood years of the band, and it’s no surprise that children show up throughout the wartime sequences. Indeed, The Walrus shows up as a tempter of innocence (as embodied by the girl who will become Lucy (In The Sky with Diamonds) later in the performance). In this phase Julia, the orphan John Lennon’s mother, dies, an event that has a profound impact on John’s life.

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.

cirque beatles love drive my car

The Exuberance of Drive My Car

 

The second act opens with the band as Teddy Boys and the craziness of Beatlemania. Theme songs of this act are Drive My Car and I Wanna Hold Your Hand, with the first appearance of the VW Bug, an icon of the free love era and, of course, a symbol of the forgiveness of the post-war era: VWs were made in the same factories that had made German bombers that had overflown London during the War.

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.

cirque beatles love sgt pepper

We are all Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

 

Unconstrained chaos is exhausting and it’s logical that the next number is Help! This phase was so important to the boys that there’s a song, an album and even a movie with the same name. Too much of a good thing isn’t so good after a while. To underline this, the very next number is Blackbird, where the titular bird is entreated to “take this broken wing and learn to fly…”

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).

cirque beatles love here comes sun

There’ll be a Brighter Day: Here Comes The Sun

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.


Ownership of the trademarks: Apple Corps Limited for The Beatles (word & design), ™ Cirque du Soleil for Cirque du Soleil (word & design) ® and The Cirque Apple Creation Partnership for LOVE (word & design). ™ Trademarks used under license and images used with the express permission of Cirque du Soleil.

10 comments on “The Story Behind Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles LOVE

  1. I just saw the show a couple of weeks ago and have to agree with you. It was an incredible show and knowing what I do of the Beatles, I found the story very touching. I also wanted to say that you wrote a Great Review!

  2. What a great write up. I like The Beatles music, but didn’t know about their history. You’ve filled a lot of the blanks in the story. I’m trying to figure out the significance of the pregnant lady.

    • Pretty darn sure that’s Lady Madonna and the pregnancy is a reference to the line “Children at your breast, wonders how you manage to feed the rest” as a symbol of fertility and the challenge of poverty as a mother.

  3. Just saw this a couple of nights ago, I thought I was just going to people tumbling & flying around to Beatles songs… Boy did I sale this production short. Once it started clicking in me a bit of what was being presented here, I could take it all in and process it fast enough. Thanks for your take on it. Very insightful.

  4. Saw ‘Love’ last night. Thank you for clarifying some of the concert that I was confused about. The performance had a lot deeper meaning than I had thought. I lived during the time of the Beatles, but obviously too young to understand the meanings of some of the lyrics example Blackbird. Until reading your review, I was also unclear of the meaning of the pregnant black girl and the VW beetle. Enjoyed the performance but found it to be more expensive than other Cirque performances that I have seen. Maybe there was a cost to using the Beatles name and songs.

  5. Being a single Dad of 2, How true it is when you mention “parenting never leaves you”. I went to Vegas with my 13 year old daughter and surprised her with 2 tickets for LOVE when we got there on 3/31 (the only day/ night of spring break just her and I!!). I was in heaven before the show even started! (And still am!). The performance was amazing and there was never a bored or unenchanted glow coming from her face! What really blew me away was how many songs she was singing!! I thought this was”just Dad music”. It’s truly amazing the depth and reach that the beetles had, and still have today. We thought it was a flawless, beautiful performance, especially blackbird and octopuses garden. Words can not describe the gratitude I have for LOVE putting the “icing on the cake” for a Dad’s “dream date” with his daughter. Thank you again…

  6. I was lucky enough to see the show when they were doing dress rehearsals. We got discount tickets in case they had to stop the show and re-do certain scenes but they never had to. I’m very anxious to see the show again now that it’s established. After reading your review, I’m even more excited!

  7. This show came highly recommended and it did not disappoint. I did however leave with many, many questions about the symbolisms. I was hoping to find an interpretation and your post brought it together for me. Having been a teen during the 6o’s I loved their music (as the Beatles) but gave no thought to the underlying meaning. Of course history influences everything and this show gave a fascinating narrative of early 20th century England and what it was for four young talented artists.

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