A review of Cirque Du Soleil's Viva Elvis

31 October 2011

Elvis Presley was Vegas personified - brash, flashy and entertaining on a stratospheric scale. During his lifetime he held court for months on end at the Las Vegas International Hotel (now the Las Vegas Hilton), breaking box office records as he rocked and rolled, shook his hips and made an icon of the white rhinestone jumpsuit for millions of adoring fans.

Cirque du Soleil are now THE hot ticket of Las Vegas entertainment, so it seems almost incredible that it's taken so long for them to breathe life into the legend of the King. But with the huge success of the wonderful Beatles 'Love' under their belts, Cirque du Soleil have turned their attention to the life and music of Elvis Presley. The resulting show - Viva Elvis - is now very much alive and rocking at the Aria Resort and Casino in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Aria Hotel is part of the vast city-within-a-city that is CityCenter - a development so big it has its own monorail to connect its various parts, but still very much centre-Strip, making it easily accessible for visitors. As with other Cirque shows, the hotel has built a bespoke theatre to house the Viva Elvis show, and it is just stunning. It's all gold, glitz and comfortable glamour - everything you'd hope an Elvis theatre would be - with even the door handles in the shape of Taking Care of Business flashes. Mr Presley would have approved, and I bet he'd have felt very much at home here too.

Even before the show starts, there's a little audience interaction with Cirque Elvis 'groupies' just dying for the show to start, desperate for a glimpse of the great man himself. And then it all begins. Huge sound with an energetic live band on top of the original recordings that really puts some added muscle into the songs - something that's needed to give that extra dimension in a stage show such as this. There's video and home movie footage of Elvis himself at points throughout the show - something that really seems to energise the theatre, and is a testament to the continuing charisma of a performer who hasn't been with us for over 40 years. And there's the Cirque spectacle and magic ladled over the top which makes a lot of this show very special indeed. There are so many ideas bursting out at you it can be hard to process in one sitting.

There are wonderful sets and 112 costume changes. There are acrobats, lasso artists and dancers, and gravity-defying acts high above the stage that are breathtakingly beautiful and awe-inspiring  in terms of the strength and complexity on show. There is a 'superhero' act with trampolines that had me laughing out loud while marvelling at the unexpected and unlikely stunts - an act I would happily pay the ticket price to see all over again on its own.

Having seen a number of the Cirque Vegas shows, there is more of a straight song and dance feel to a lot of this show than I might have expected. Sometimes this works incredibly well - a hugely energetic 'Bossanova Baby' had me itching to dance, while 'Burning Love' (one of my favourite Elvis songs) was as life affirming and downright dirty as I could have hoped.  'King Creole' is given a Dancehall twist with a live vocalist that lends a whole new and unexpected vitality to the song.

However, I was less convinced by some of the other live vocal interpretations of Elvis classics: 'All Shook Up' didn't work for me sung as a gospel number, while 'Falling in Love With You' seemed overdone sung over some wonderful home movie footage of Elvis and Priscilla getting married in a hotel room of Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas back in 1967. When you have something as intimate and touching as the wedding footage, less really is more.

Despite the overall power of the show, not everything works. Colonel Tom Parker as narrator interrupts the flow and energy of the show rather than tying the sections together - something which is needed with so many disparate scenes. And the fact he's a kindly old fellow without a hint of manipulation may not sit right with a lot of Elvis fans - some of the darkness of that relationship needs to come through. But mostly the decision to use live vocalists 'interpreting' Elvis classics at times rather than using the original recordings simply lessens the impact of some of the sections. It means that Elvis can seem a ghost rather than the vibrant presence he could have been throughout  - something that has been achieved effortlessly with the Beatles show 'Love', and meaning that the gut-wrenching emotional impact of that show is lacking here.

But any Cirque show is an organic, evolving thing and I would put money on the fact that any glitches will be ironed out in the coming months [this is Las Vegas, after all]. Viva Elvis is a fitting tribute to a great entertainer, and a masterpiece of imagination and showmanship in the making. As with any Cirque show, it really has to be experienced to be fully appreciated, whether you're an Elvis fan or not. Go. Enjoy. Wonder. Smile. Thank you very much.

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