Before last week, I’d never seen a Cirque du Soleil show, and didn’t know much about it except that it’s got acrobats and dancers in a ton of make-up, and that middle-aged white people absolutely lose their shit over it.
Now that I’ve seen their show LOVE at The Mirage in Las Vegas, I can assert that both of those things are true. I spent an hour and a half surrounded by beautiful people doing the most amazing feats of physicality I’ve ever seen in person, and as a middle-aged white person myself, I was completely wrecked by the end of it.
Actually, that’s underselling it; I was devastated by the whole thing. The show has an intentionally chaotic opening as the performers move across the stage, giving everyone in the audience something different to look at — there’s a penny farthing! A VW Beetle! Hey look, mods! — and the music is ostensibly a remix/medley of “Get Back” and “Glass Onion” that reminds you just how much amazing music the Beatles put out. As I was turning my head to look at trapeze artists overhead, I felt something wet. I reached up to touch my face — like a doomed character in a TV series realizing their nose is bleeding — and I found that I’d already started involuntarily crying.
This was like maybe five minutes into a 90 minute show. I seriously needed to pace myself.
The problem — or at least part of it — was that I’d forgotten just how much I’ve always loved The Beatles. I found myself flashing back to that birthday when my parents gave me my first CD player, and my first CD was the White Album. I remembered watching Help! and A Hard Day’s Night and The Beatles cartoon. I remembered sitting in my college’s computer science lab alone late at night, reading USENET articles about the butcher cover and how it supposedly gave clues to the “Paul is Dead” urban legend. I remembered sketching out “storyboards” to the animated music videos I was going to one day make to Til There Was You and I Am The Walrus. And they were all wordless flashes of memory that combined with dozens more half-formed ones. As if I were about to be hit by a car, and for whatever reason a Beatles retrospective was what flashed before my eyes.
I don’t know if I would’ve been so moved by the show if I hadn’t come with all of that Beatle baggage. I think I might have, though, because it all worked wordlessly. There’s no real story, but suggestions of important moments in the band members’ lives and their career, and characters suggested by some of their songs, and repeated references to their ever-changing aesthetic. I suspect that if I were to have each scene described to me by someone who’d seen the show, my reaction would’ve been, “That’s nice I love that for you.” But seeing it for myself was transcendent. Almost brutally so.
My favorite Beatles song is Tomorrow Never Knows. I spent years listening to it and imagining all the images I could make for a video if I could somehow get the rights1I’ve never been as clever as The Chemical Brothers, so it never would’ve occurred to me that you could just make your own version. and also learn how to be an animator. When I bought the LOVE soundtrack in 2006 — yes, I had forgotten that this show is almost 20 years old now — I was a little disappointed that the song had been combined with Within You Without You, which seemed like a huge downgrade. In the show, however, that scene becomes one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen in any live performance.2In case that sounds like hyperbole, I say it’s justified because a) it’s such a fascinating effect, and b) I’m amazed they could pull it off at all, much less twice a night. (This short video gives an idea but is a huge spoiler, so I’d implore you not to watch unless you know you’re never going to see the show).
I can understand why it’s lasted so long, and why people have gone back for repeat visits so often. It’s an hour and a half of sensory overload, and it felt impossible to see everything. I’d be watching some acrobats performing some impossible stunts, while behind them on screens were some amazing motion graphics that could’ve been an entire show on their own.
The show ended with a protracted, Final Destination-like sequence of suspense, waiting for the moment that the performers would finally deliver the finishing blow that destroyed me completely. It was set to “Hey Jude.” It had all the performers on stage doing all their mime shit and whatever, calling back to the chaos of the beginning of the show, now with “PEACE AND LOVE” projected on the screens, and performers interacting with the audience, and callbacks to all of the emotional moments of the past hour and a half, and then this one guy starts to wander over towards our section, casually carrying an umbrella. And the song is building up to a climax, and I know what’s coming because I’ve heard it a billion times, and Paul McCartney is singing better better better better better better and then the guy points his umbrella towards us and at exactly the right moment opens it, and red confetti shoots out from the umbrella and falls from everywhere in the theater, fluttering all over the room like rose petals3But not like in Diablo 4 although I appreciated the similarities falling from the sky as everyone sings the nah nah nah nah nah nah nah part together over and over again. And reader, I burst into the ugliest of ugly sobs.
I feel like I’m supposed to be more cynical about these things — I’m still a fan of Patton Oswalt and his take on Cirque du Soleil in Werewolves and Lollipops — but screw that. I loved being completely overwhelmed by everything I was seeing. It’s impossible to see all of the dancers and acrobats pulling off perfectly executed choreography, all of the brilliant stage effects, all of the fantastic animation, all set to some of the best music of the 20th century, and not be struck with the idea that human beings are capable of wonderful things.
- 1I’ve never been as clever as The Chemical Brothers, so it never would’ve occurred to me that you could just make your own version.
- 2In case that sounds like hyperbole, I say it’s justified because a) it’s such a fascinating effect, and b) I’m amazed they could pull it off at all, much less twice a night.
- 3But not like in Diablo 4 although I appreciated the similarities