Small changes help ‘Viva Elvis’; big picture remains same

Well, this was a first: going to a Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil show knowing it would be the last time to see it.

Of course, Cirque never really closes shows on the Strip. But just as "Criss Angel: Believe" morphed into a different product beyond the title and the star, "Viva Elvis" is set for an extreme makeover not even guaranteed to keep the title.

The empty seats on a recent weeknight supply the motive behind drastic action: Acrobatic acts will be grafted in this winter after "Zed" closes in Japan. And the new version won’t dwell so much on the biography of Presley, whose fans have been revealed to be too old or something.

If you do love Elvis, you have until the end of the year to see "Viva" in its current form, with all kinds of discount offers (including a locals special of two tickets for $75 through September). Keep in mind it’s more fun for families than it’s been given credit for (if this show were at Treasure Island instead of Aria, it could be a different story).

It’s also fair to note "Viva" already made some small changes for the better; the "Jailhouse Rock" number no longer ends in a strobe-flashing acid trip, for instance.

But the big picture hasn’t changed. Look to the empty seats for the motive, but the show onstage explains why these Dr. Frankensteins have the confidence to think this lumbering creature can be revived. It’s just easier to cut and paste when the parts don’t add up to any cohesive whole.

Imagine, if you can, that "Love" was the underperformer which had to make room for homeless acrobats. It would be tough to shoehorn them into carefully designed action with a context — a surreal Liverpool populated by characters from the Beatles’ songs — painting a bigger picture of postwar England.

"Elvis" is haphazard by comparison. Some segments are great fun, others cringe-worthy. But all of them are indeed stand-alone pieces, loosely arranged to the timeline of Presley’s life, and not even fully committed to that. (Why do we essentially skip past Elvis’ becoming a national obsession, but devote an ungainly amount of time and documentary footage to his being drafted into the Army?)

Unfortunately, the two most obnoxious segments are the bookends that make the first and last impression. The costumes in "Love" have a tarnished, cinematic realism. The "Elvis" opening gives you orange and yellow trousers straight out of the "Bye Bye Birdie" movie. Better at least than the ending, with those Elvis hair-helmets you’d wear to a Halloween party.

Be patient for a few minutes though, and singer Toscha Comeaux blows the doors off with "All Shook Up" and "Saved." If this segment were on Broadway without Cirque’s name above the title, people would go crazy for it.

So is this circus spectacle or musical revue? No one seems clear. Knowing the "Zed" gymnasts are on their way, you can spot specific numbers where they could be plopped right in: an adagio dance couple lost amid jumpsuits in the "Suspicious Minds" Vegas sequence, or the guy who looks kind of small spinning inside a big hoop during "King Creole."

And every segment where the song and acrobatics do jell perfectly — such as the military drum corps firing up the calisthenics of "Return to Sender" — is matched by one that loses the focus, such as Jennlee Shallow singing "Can’t Help Falling in Love" while statically perched atop a giant wedding cake, hovering over … roller skaters?

But Shallow’s belting "King Creole," or Jason Levi’s trumpet solo in "It’s Now or Never," make it clear the singers and the live band are the heart and soul of this show. You hope they don’t become a casualty of the acrobatics they now overshadow.

But what will become of poor Elvis? He’s a culprit in this, too, because anytime he shows up on video, you look at him instead of the live people on the stage.

Will he fade into the background of his own show? For now, it’s kind of eerie to hear manager Tom Parker (a terrible idea rescued by the earnest performance of Junior Case) talk about Presley’s Vegas comeback: "Will they remember him? Will they still care about his music?"

I guess we will find out next year.

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

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