- Vegas' new 'Viva ELVIS' falls flat: Cirque du Soleil's tribute doesn't tap into the essence of the King of Rock 'n' Roll
By MIRIAM DINUNZIO
(newkerala.com, February 22 2010)
When Cirque du Soleil premiered the Beatles-based "LOVE," in 2006 at the Mirage Resort, the barre of excellence was set anew for this Montreal-based entertainment behemoth in terms of artistry, technology and shear pop culture magnitude. In that 90-minute spectacular production, the music of the Beatles was completely re-imagined, while cleverly edited "Beatles dialogue" was as haunting as it was endearing. It was a rediscovery of the very essence of the Beatles' music.
Cirque announced soon afterward that its next subject for a Las Vegas mega-production would be Elvis Presley, which seemed a logical (if not more daunting) progression. After all, Elvis was Las Vegas' adopted native son, who spent a good chunk of his later life as the city's top showroom draw, even if the pioneering rock-n-roll singer was now dressed up as a jumpsuited superhero, cape and all. So with the full cooperation of CKX Inc., (the company that controls the Presley estate), Elvis Presley Enterprises, access to every master recording Presley ever put down on tape, as well as all of his films and television appearances, home movies, and input from Priscilla Presley herself, how could Cirque miss?
But miss it has, and after experiencing the 90-minute "Viva ELVIS" gala premiere Friday night at the plush Elvis Presley Theatre inside the Aria Hotel at CityCenter, the reason becomes clear: Somewhere along the creative road, the production lost sight of the essence of Elvis Presley. (Trust me, it won't be found in a group of rollerskating "bridegrooms" in one of the silliest giant wedding cake sendups this side of Busby Berkeley.)
Part Cirque, part rock concert, the production -- written, directed and co-choreographed by Vincent Patterson -- is eye-candy to the max, a color-rich explosion of Andy Warhol-meets-Bob Mackie-meets- "The Folies Bergere." With its cast of 28 acrobats, 30 vibrant dancers (this show is almost entirely driven by dance), four female vocalists (the only male voice in the production is that of Presley himself) and a scorching nine-piece band that steals the show, "Viva ELVIS" is not the story of Elvis' life, but a celebration of his legacy, the show's program informs. To that end, glorious montages of home movies, vintage news reel footage and clips from Presley's feature films provide the video backdrop to the action way, way below on one of the largest proscenium stages ever constructed.
Despite all that and more, Cirque has not quite figured out what it wants to do with Presley. Was he the King of Rock and Roll, or the king of kitsch? Do we really need pole dancers to sexy-up "It's Now or Never (which has incidentally been re-mixed in a minor key)? And when it comes to hearing Elvis sing, the show too often splits that duty between his vocals stripped from those master tapes and the aforementioned very capable female singers who tackle the Presley songbook in contemporary solo efforts or in funky "duets" with the King. A weakly written narrative delivered by an actor portraying Presley's lifelong manager Colonel Tom Parker as a jolly old fella is just too much to forgive.
There are moments when the show does find its way: A brassy, big-band sendup of "Don't Be Cruel" is a marvelous take on the classic. "All Shook Up" is reborn as a rousing spiritual in tribute to Presley's Tupelo, Miss., roots. A gorgeous aerial trapeze pas de deux plays against Presley's gentle vocals on "Are You Lonesome Tonight." "One Night With You," unfolds as a dramatic visualization of Elvis and his twin brother Jesse Garon (who died at birth) in which two male acrobats (dressed identically in 1950's-style white T-shirts and jeans) navigate a massive skeletal guitar suspended high overhead. One climbs the guitar's neck to the stars; the other tumbles into the abyss below. It is the evening's emotional high point.
In the end, what's missing in all of Cirque's re-Elvising of Elvis is the heart and soul of the boy who would be king. Presley delivered rock and roll, blues, gospel and pop, with an incomparable dose of soul always at their core. Presley's ability to cross all musical genre (and color) lines with the greatest of ease was his forte, from his earliest recordings, to his incomparable '68 "Comeback Special" (shamefully missing from the production, since that television special paved the way for Elvis' return to the Las Vegas stage) to those jumpsuited '70s shows at the International Hotel that were the hottest ticket in town.
If you know little about the life of Elvis Presley or his music, "Viva ELVIS" will do little to enlighten you, though it will entertain you. But you will walk out of the theater knowing nothing of the deep faith Presley brought to "How Great Thou Art," or the sexiness he brought to "Jailhouse Rock," or the spirited rockabilly he brought to "Mystery Train." It's those musical qualities and abilities that made Presley the artist he was, and ultimately the pop culture icon he became. It's those qualities that will forever be his true legacy. Now that's something to celebrate.
- Cirque du Soleil's "Viva Elvis" outfabs Beatles
By Erik Pedersen
(news.yahoo.com, February 21 2010)
LAS VEGAS (Hollywood Reporter) -- It's no stretch to say that Elvis Presley doesn't have quite the cultural hold on recent generations that the Beatles do. Then again, the moptops never owned Vegas like he did. And could again.
"Viva Elvis," Cirque du Soleil's seventh (!) current show in Sin City, should be an unfettered hit. With the production's successfully bold musical choices and its sheer size and spectacle, the new Aria Resort & Casino can rest easy that folks from all over will seek an audience with the King.
Comparisons to Cirque's Beatles show "Love," playing down the Strip at the Mirage, are inevitable. Despite the inherent similarities, they are very different productions. And "Viva Elvis" is superior.
One reason: There's a somber side to "Love" that "Elvis" never allows. It is pure, celebratory joy from sock-hop start to nostalgic, nonchronological finish. It's less "serious" and more playful -- yet equally reverent to its subject.
Also, "Love" is focused so clearly on the music, with its remixed and mashed-up Beatles songs. And with speakers embedded in its seat, sound is its dominant sensory experience; the action onstage is somehow secondary.
Not so with "Elvis." Yes, the King's songs are spun over, under, sideways and down, but this is more a complete show. There is far more dancing than in other Cirque fare -- not that the troupe's acrobatics are given short shrift -- and the grand stage allows for grand use of Mark Fisher's striking, sneaky-complex sets. The comfy, couchlike seats arranged in spacious aisles down front are another plus.
Musically, the show's a triumph. Musical director Erich von Tourneau makes smart use of live and recorded tracks, which often are spliced together to let singers "duet" with Elvis. Other times his vocals are stacked atop clever new arrangements. And the choice to include lesser-known nuggets among the many standards is inspired. Such hits as "Good Luck Charm" and "Teddy Bear" are bypassed in favor of the lower-profile "Tiger Man," "Got a Lot o' Livin' to Do" and "One Night of Sin."
Still, the bulk of Elvis' classics are among the three dozen full or truncated songs, most rejiggered for the 21st century. "All Shook Up" becomes a gospel celebration, "King Creole" gets the dancehall treatment, flamenco guitar spices up "It's Now or Never," and "Jailhouse Rock" is rocked up. A Bo Diddley beat fuels "Blue Suede Shoes" as a giant prop shoe's laces become uneven parallel bars and its tongue turns into a slide.
Dozens of dancers and gymnast-acrobats are backed by a rock band with a brass section, and nearly every number is memorable. (A superhero/trampoline piece is entertaining but extraneous and off theme.) A segment about the King's movie career features some fancy six-gun spinning and showy rope tricks. A second drummer beefed up "Burning Love," which played over film clips -- mainly of kissing' and flirting'.
The inevitable "Viva Las Vegas" was indeed a showstopper, complete with pyrotechnics, bullwhips and showgirls with the requisite plumage in their headgear. It and the career-spanning finale montage of film and photos -- from shy kid to mutton-chopped elder statesman -- brought the crowd to its feet. With the room awash in a shared exuberance, it was a smart decision to leave Elvis' death out of the program. No need to interrupt glee with maudlin sentiment.
Reminiscent of Cirque''s "Love" premiere in 2006, there was a technical glitch that halted Friday's premiere during the opening number. But it was fixed, and the 90-minute show went on without further interruption. That's about all one could gripe about, though. "Viva Elvis" is a winner that should play successfully for years.
- Cirque's Elvis extravaganza on Vegas Strip is, in the words of a Presley song, 'Too Much'
By LINDA DEUTSCH
(startribune.com, February 21 2010)
Three decades after Elvis Presley took his last bow on the Las Vegas Strip, where he once reigned as king, the magicians of Cirque du Soleil have tried to summon back the power of this supreme entertainer in a show titled, "Viva Elvis."
They have mixed a dizzying array of dance, acrobatics, live musicians, over-the-top stage sets, and glitzy costumes with gigantic videos of Elvis in his most legendary performances and memorable life events.
In the words of an Elvis song, the result is "Too Much." It's as if we're watching two different shows -- the circus performances that are the Cirque franchise and a tribute to Elvis that would have stood on its own.
The 45 candy-colored, whimsically designed jumpsuits worn by a dance troupe are fun to watch. And the show has 120 costume changes, including a Follies-like Las Vegas number.
But for all the energy, skill and effort evident on stage, the most riveting segments of "Viva Elvis" are the videos in which the Presley charisma is as mesmerizing as ever. When Elvis is on the huge screen in simple black and white, you can't take your eyes off of him. And the nearby live performers trying gamely to get attention with their colorful dances and acrobatics are seriously upstaged.
Only when Elvis disappears entirely, as in a beautifully staged trampoline act featuring comic book super heroes (a comparison to Elvis that's a stretch), do the acrobats have a chance to shine.
Friday night's premiere before a star-studded audience of 1,800 at the specially designed Elvis theater in the new Aria Hotel got off to a rocky start when, in the middle of the first number, house lights went on, the stage went dark and there was an announcement that an alarm had gone off.
After a five-minute break, the show resumed to sighs of relief. Videos were projected in a gigantic juke box frame as Elvis' voice filled the theater singing "Blue Suede Shoes." Scenes from his concerts, the hysteria of his fans, and his TV appearances set the stage for a retrospective of his life.
But as the video rolled, dancers cavorted on stage, a pink Cadillac rolled in, and a gigantic blue suede shoe appeared with acrobats hanging from it.
Other extravagant numbers included a medley of Elvis' early songs with monument-sized recreations of Elvis in cowboy garb aiming a pistol -- the same image from the movie "Flaming Star" seen in a classic Andy Warhol painting. But the size was befitting an Egyptian pharaoh. The famous "Jailhouse Rock" dance was performed on a 40-foot-high cell block by dozens of dancers and acrobats, some dancing upside down.
The silliest production number of all involved a mammoth wedding cake for Elvis and Priscilla. A woman on top sang "Can't Help Falling in Love," while couples performed ballet at the base and dancers on roller skates whirled around them. As if there wasn't enough going on, a voluminous bridal train enveloped the cake and reflected blurry photos of Elvis and Priscilla on their wedding day. It gave new meaning to the term over the top.
Among the most successful segments was one dealing with Elvis' time in the Army. Male dancers in uniform swing danced with girls dressed as love letters, while newspaper headlines about Elvis' draft were projected on the back wall. Videos of his induction, including a shot of his mother in tears, provided the kind of emotion that makes Elvis' personal story so compelling.
But the only attempt at a narrative came from a caricature of Elvis' manager, Col. Tom Parker -- a poor choice for this kind of insight, since his role in Elvis' story remains a subject of controversy.
The recordings of Elvis classics have been skillfully remixed, making them sound more contemporary than ever, and the decibels are cranked up high.
Before the show began, Priscilla Presley, who was an adviser on the production, said in a brief interview that she hoped, "This tribute will help to tell a new generation about Elvis. The younger kids will get to know Elvis."
She may be right. The show provides enough sensory overload to lure young audiences. The rest of us can hope that it is a work in progress and will be refined as months go by.
We can also be thankful for small mercies: at least there are no Elvis impersonators.
- JOE JACKSON CLAIMS ELVIS PRESLEY's DOCTOR TREATED MICHAEL
(newkerala.com, February 21 2010)
JOE JACKSON is convinced his son MICHAEL approached ELVIS PRESLEY's former doctor to prescribe him drugs prior to his death last June (09) - and wants the medic investigated by officials.
The Jackson family patriarch was granted permission by a Los Angeles judge on Friday (19Feb10) to trawl through his late son's medical records, after the King of Pop's personal physician Dr. Conrad Murray pleaded not guilty to a count of involuntary manslaughter.
Murray stands accused of administering the dose of powerful anaesthetic Propofol which killed the star.
But Joe Jackson has claimed Murray is not the only high-profile doctor who could be linked to Michael's death. He is sure his son also consulted the man who treated late music icon Presley - George Nichopoulos, also known as Dr. Nick.
And he wants cops to question Dr. Nick over his dealings with the King Of Pop.
He tells Britain's Daily Star Sunday, "All of these guys that gave Michael what they shouldn't have need to be looked at.
"We have heard that Michael even tried to get drugs from Elvis' doctor - some guy called Dr Nick. There's a whole bunch of other people that need to be questioned too.
"Michael was not well. We tried to help him but we couldn't get to him. People stopped us from getting to him. There were more people involved than Murray. Murray is just the fall guy.
"I will not stop until I get justice for my son. Justice means a murder charge for everyone involved. All I am after is just justice, that sort of a thing."