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October 31, 2014

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Cirque plans to spin ‘Zumanity’ and ‘Love’ anew

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Cirque du Soleil

Artists from “The Beatles’ Love” by Cirque du Soleil perform Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, in baggage claim at McCarran International Airport in celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ only Las Vegas appearance.

Cirque du Soleil put on quite a scene Thursday afternoon at McCarran International Airport, as artists from “Love” at the Mirage bounded about the baggage claim area to celebrate The Beatles’ performances at the Las Vegas Convention Center 50 years ago this week.

Cast members vaulted from trampolines placed temporarily on carousels, raced over the top of the white VW Beetle used in the show and twirled as streamers were fired from cannons from the walkway high above the baggage area. As one startled tourist, her yes wide with amazement, said, “We’ve walked into a scene here!”

But as always is the case with the city’s favorite French-Canadian circus troupe, there is as much creative energy spent behind-the-scenes as onstage.

Changes are in the offing for Cirque, specifically centering on two productions — including the one showcased at McCarran. “Love” is undergoing a widespread visual and audio refreshing by the time the show celebrates its 10th anniversary in the summer of 2016. Due for an overhaul, too, is “Zumanity” at New York-New York. That production’s makeover happens sooner than that of “Love,” by mid-2015.

“For us, it’s business as usual as we area always looking to evolve the shows,” says Calum Pearson, Cirque’s vice president of resident shows. “We had this happen with ‘Mystere,’ when it reached the 20-year mark, and the show (“Zed”) was closing in Tokyo. We saw a chance then to (make) “Mystere” fresher and more current.”

For Cirque shows, the key phrase is these are art pieces as opposed to museum pieces. They live as performance art, not paintings. “Zumanity” has become a focal point in Cirque’s growth in Las Vegas, as this spring it passed its 10th anniversary. But that show will go dark early next year for an overhaul that will change scenes, the use of personnel, costumes and choreography. The show will likely use a two-host format (sound familiar?) and move into the audience more seamlessly than it does already and further emphasize the production’s adult comedy.

Once deemed (correctly) as one of the city’s edgiest productions, Cirque’s adult sensibility is today relatively commonplace as other shows — especially “Absinthe” — have seized upon the adult, raunchy, ribald quality that “Zumanity” once owned among production shows.

Though Cirque officials would never state that a rival show has surpassed one of its productions in any creative capacity, “Absinthe” has helped change the standards of Las Vegas audiences for what is genuinely risqué on a Strip stage.

“’Zumanity’ had great shock value, originally, but we’ve seen that what was shocking 10 years ago is not shocking now,” Pearson says. “We have to ask is that really the right concept? We’re looking at new, vibrant choreography, more flexibility with our costumes, more interactivity with the audience, and we want to bring them onstage more. And this has all evolved naturally over time.”

Pearson says a “young and very relevant” choreographer will be under contract, soon, to help remake the show. The process is still in its infancy, as Cirque founder Guy Laliberte has not even seen an initial concept of the changes. But they are moving forward, no question.

“Ten years is a long time for any show to be onstage,” Pearson says. “And you have to look at evolving when you have been onstage that long.”

The work in “Love” starts with the ears rather than they eyes, as that show’s “soundscape” is due for review. The brilliant audio knitting of Giles Martin has created the musical playground for the Cirque artists, but once more that work is now familiar to repeat customers and also Beatles fans who purchased the original release.

The son of Beatles producer George Martin, Giles Martin is being recruited to update the music of the show (whether that process will be easier or more challenging the second time around will be fascinating to know), as he has been given access to every sound from the band — even conversations, throat clearing and the breaking of drinking glasses — throughout its recording history.

“The important thing to know is the essence of why we created ‘Love’ is as strong as it was when we started,” says Pearson of a show that opened in June 2006. “We will continue to evoke the nostalgia that music creates. We just have a tough time fitting all that music and all those hits into one 90-minute show.”

Fans have said “Love” would do well to drop more of the band’s earlier rock ‘n’ roll songs into the show, or at least present them more prevalently. “I Saw Her Standing There” and “She Loves You” could fall in line seamlessly in the early stretch where “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is rolled out. Full-scale versions of such off-beat tracks as “Rain” and “Hey Bulldog” would rock that theater, which remains a wonder of audio technology with its 6,000 speakers built into the structure and theater seats.

Such unsolicited advice from fans of The Beatles, and of Cirque, is always part of the process.

“We like knowing the standards of our audiences, what they expect out of Cirque, and those expectations are all very high,” Pearson says. “We definitely are keeping the intent and essence of what we do in place. But if you want to look at our process, right now the priority are changes to ‘Zumanity,’ and then we’ll rally around ‘Love.’ “

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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