weather icon Partly Cloudy

New Cirque show ‘Viva Elvis’ blends symbolism, music in tribute to the King

What would Elvis do?

At the risk of adding to longtime confusion between Jesus and pop culture’s deity, Gilles Ste-Croix paraphrased the Christian motto as "the driving force" for Cirque du Soleil’s new "Viva Elvis."

"I told all the creators, everybody involved in this show: If Elvis lived today, what type of band would he want? What type of dance would he want? What type of set? What type of theater?"

The veteran Cirque executive, credited as "artistic guide" for the new production, says he hopes Presley would even feel comfortable in one of the plush, bisected love seats inside the new 1,800-seat custom theater at Aria. It’s a conventional opera-house layout, but the upholstery pattern on the chairs, the drapes imprinted with Elvis 45’s — even the wood on the walls — all reference the "Jungle Room" and other interiors at Graceland, the King’s Memphis, Tenn., castle.

"We didn’t want to be literal, but we wanted to be just," Ste-Croix says. And the way to do that was to "inspire ourselves from him, his tastes and his music."

Ste-Croix also knew this, the most American Cirque du Soleil show to date, couldn’t have the company’s usual Canadian new-age aesthetic. Enter director Vincent Paterson, a choreographer best known for his concert and video work with Michael Jackson and Madonna.

"I had respect for (Elvis) because his songs had lived so long, but I didn’t know that much about him," says Paterson, who was more of the early MTV era, dancing alongside Jackson in some of his most famous videos.

Through this project, Paterson came to realize the original hip-swiveler is "the guy who moved teens from partner-dancing and onto the dance floor by themselves. So his influence was monstrous."

Ste-Croix is candid in saying "the show is not complete and it’s not what we wish" as it launches ticketed previews today. Theater construction delays trimmed four weeks of onstage rehearsals. CityCenter chief executive Bobby Baldwin wanted the show in previews for the opening of Aria and the holidays, Ste-Croix says.

After Jan. 3, it goes back into rehearsals, with new scenic elements and choreography among the changes planned in time for the official premiere Feb. 19.

"Viva" already has evolved significantly, toning down a premise that was more like a Broadway musical. Even so, Ste-Croix says the new show takes on "a concert atmosphere at times" and is not "Mystere" set to Elvis hits. "If you want to see a circus show, we have others in town," he says with a laugh.

Paterson, credited as writer and director, first shaped a more biographical revue with four characters — including a young and older Presley and his mother, Gladys — providing different perspectives on the action.

The narration has been consolidated into the character of "Colonel" Tom Parker (Junior Case), the manager who steered Presley from state fairs to megastardom, then into a questionable second chapter of B-movie musicals.

When creators had questions, Ste-Croix says they turned to Presley’s ex-wife, Priscilla. Her guidance came as part of the partnership with CKX Inc., which controls the Presley estate. At a Tuesday media preview, Priscilla Presley reminded reporters that Cirque has "a uniquely wonderful abstract way" of seeing the world.

Ever since "Mystere" opened in 1993, Ste-Croix has preached the power of "evocation" over the literal. "We didn’t need the mother to say, ‘I was born in a little shack on a dirt road,’ " he says. Instead, costumed performers framed by sepia-toned photos reference the hardship of Tupelo, Miss., farm life in the 1930s, as gospel singer Toscha Comeaux belts "All Shook Up."

Cirque’s Beatles tribute "Love" has an extra layer of resonance for those who know John Lennon and Paul McCartney lost their mothers at a young age. Likewise, those who know Elvis had a twin brother, Jesse, who died at birth will get the symbolism of two identical acrobats on a giant guitar. One falls, the other climbs to the top of the neck.

If you don’t pick up on that, don’t feel bad, Ste-Croix says. Neither did Priscilla.

A trampoline act has costumed superheroes bouncing around an amusement park set, leaving the audience to remember Elvis loved Captain Marvel, whose hair resembles a certain rocker’s and whose chest emblem is similar to the "TCB (Takin’ Care of Business)" lightning bolt worn by the King’s inner circle.

The music for that scene is "Got A Lot O’ Livin’ to Do!" Presley’s vocal tops a guitar-rock arrangement that sounds more Jimmy Page than Scotty Moore. The guitar acrobatics include a piano floating down from the sky, with singer Sherry St-Germain crooning a slowed-down, Norah Jones-ish "One Night With You."

Ste-Croix explains the ground rule: The only male voice in the show is Elvis’ own. But unlike "Love," the songs are performed in whole and not mashed up, and some are rendered by female cast members.

"It’ll be interesting to see what the die-hard fans feel, but I feel that we’ve kind of kept true to the legacy of the rock ‘n’ roll he began," Paterson says. "Fifty-some years later, the show is a lot rock ‘n’ roll. He sounds unbelievable. It makes you realize the longevity of a voice like that, how it’s not just something lodged in a historical moment in time, but really transcends time."

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

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Heavier traffic expected from EDC festival attendees
Electric Daisy Carnival attendees began to vacate the Las Vegas Motor Speedway starting before 5 a.m., the majority heading south on Interstate 15.
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DJ Steve Aoki visits Las Vegas comic book store
DJ Steve Aoki visits Torpedo Comics in Las Vegas Friday, May 17, 2019, for a signing for his new comic book series "Neon Future." (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roger Waters melds classic rock, modern concerns

The tour is called “Us + Them” for reasons made very clear. But Roger Waters’ tour stop Friday at T-Mobile Arena also seemed at times to alternate between “us” and “him.”

Mel Brooks makes his Las Vegas debut — at age 91

Comic legend witnessed classic Vegas shows, and his Broadway show ‘The Producers’ played here. But Wynn Las Vegas shows will be his first on stage.