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Five years in, Cirque’s ‘Love’ worth another look

Damn but they made it look so easy.

Sure, it helps to have this group called The Beatles supplying the soundtrack. But watching "Love" on its fifth anniversary drove home the fact that Cirque du Soleil hasn't topped it in Las Vegas. The company still rules the Strip, but its subsequent "Criss Angel: Believe" and "Viva Elvis" seemed very labored by comparison.

Those who aren't repeat customers for the Beatles show may recall only one harshly sour note from the 2006 debut: an attempt to tap into the mop tops' sense of English music-hall absurdity by having a guy recite "Blackbird" as he shotgun blasted costumed representations of said birds.

The song is still one of the show's rare comic moments. But the modified version fits the tune and its winsome tone.

Other changes were more what director Dominic Champagne called "cleaning" the show, trying to make it less hectic and helping the audience-in-the-round find what it's supposed to be looking at.

That's still a problem at times. It's a mixed blessing that you can walk away with a different take on "Love" depending on whether you are sitting at stage level, where the action seems more theatrical, or higher up, where the acrobatics dominate the focus.

On the cooldown day after the cast performed for Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono and George Harrison's family, Champagne recalled an early conversation with musical maestro George Martin, trying to define the show less by what it would be than what it wasn't.

"It's not gonna be a musical, it's not gonna be a rock show, it's not theater, it's not opera, it's not an acrobatic show. It's going to be probably all of that, all together, so let's call it a rock 'n' roll poem," he explained. "It gave us the opportunity to embrace everything, (as) The Beatles did."

First-time visitors will relish the highlights, such as the playful moment when parachute fabric drifts out to cover our heads during "Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows," (George's son) Giles Martin's most aggressive tampering with the original catalog. Or the African gumboot dance that joyously explodes into "Lady Madonna."

Beatlemaniacs will not argue with the way bits of stray studio chatter have been shaped into thematic narrative: "The war is over! The old ways are back!"

Or how the songs spawned a surreal representation of Liverpool, peopled by the likes of Father McKenzie (Eugen Brim), Sergeant Pepper (Vova Sosnine) or Lucy (Anne Weisbecker), who takes to the sky with diamonds while her yearning admirer remains earthbound below.

Without attempting a linear story, the action is organized enough to flow from the birth of Beatlemania through the hippie era and the inevitable end of both a decade and a band. It's more rare to stop cold for stunts -- such as the "Help!" speed skaters -- than for the acrobatics to be in context: trampoline antics as a dustup between hippies and English bobbies.

And no other Las Vegas show (not counting imported Broadway musicals) dares to play with dark, touching moments. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is a dancer (Charlotte O'Dowd) mourning someone lost, probably to war. "A Day in the Life" becomes a stunning metaphor for the death of John Lennon's mother, leaving the crowd in silence until "Hey Jude" builds them up again.

If these aren't reason enough to see "Love" again, notice the details: The distressed, lived-in look of the costumes. A boy carrying a crushed and blown-up horn after the World War II bombings. The skaters' helmets looking like Beatles haircuts. Stuff you might not have remembered from the first time, like spacemen.

Seems like you'll have another five years, easily, to "Get Back" and notice them.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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