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June 25, 2016

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Cirque du Soleil:

Giles Martin, ‘Love’ musical director, on refreshing The Beatles show: ‘It needed to be more vibrant’

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Tom Donoghue / DonoghuePhotography.com

Rehearsal for Cirque du Soleil’s “The Beatles Love” on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, at the Mirage.

‘Love’ Rehearsal at the Mirage

Rehearsal for Cirque du Soleil's Launch slideshow »

Love Fifth-Anniversary Red Carpet

Yoko Ono Lennon and Sean Lennon at the fifth-anniversary celebration of The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil at the Mirage on June 8, 2011.

Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

Rehearsal for Cirque du Soleil's "The Beatles Love" on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, at the Mirage.

Click to enlarge photo

Rehearsal for Cirque du Soleil's "The Beatles Love" on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, at the Mirage.

English record producer Sir George Martin is often referred to as “The Fifth Beatle” because of his extensive involvement with the group’s original albums. He was part of The Beatles’ first recordings of “Love Me Do” in 1962. In all as one of the greatest record producers ever, he had 23 No. 1 hits in the USA and 30 in Britain.

George’s incredible career has spanned more than six decades. In 2006, son Giles Martin and he remixed 80 minutes of The Beatles’ music for the Cirque du Soleil stage show “The Beatles Love” at the Mirage, and Giles has remained the musical director ever since.

Two years ago, Giles and “Love” director Dominic Champagne decided to transform The Beatles’ show in a top-to-bottom makeover. The reimagined show opens Thursday, Feb. 25, and, during final rehearsals, I talked at length with Giles about his musical changes for Part 2 of our look at “Love” as it begins its second decade of Strip success.

The 10th anniversary celebration of “Love” with Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison is in July. Our thanks to contributing photographer Tom Donoghue for his new photos. Our Q+A with Cirque creations director Chantal Tremblay was posted this afternoon.

What was 10 years ago is now Noah’s Ark? How much has it changed?

Technology and audio, just that side of things. It’s pretty big. We mixed everything on computers. There’s no tapes or recording studios here. What you can do on a laptop now you couldn’t even do on the computers we had then. If you think about it, 10 years in computing, that’s a lot. Simple things, other simple things, like audio quality.

I was the first person to back up The Beatles’ catalog by doing the “Love” project. It was on four-track and eight-track and two-track tapes my dad recorded on. Instead of the legacy I thought that I’d leave, I thought that I was going to get fired from the project with the concept of taking The Beatles tapes and doing a show in Las Vegas. At that point, it was a completely ridiculous idea.

I thought that at least we’ll back up the tapes so there’ll be a legacy there. The funny thing is now I just recently remixed a number of The Beatles’ number ones last year, and we went through another process of making it sound even better. So one thing I’m doing is replacing all the audio that’s in the show with all-new audio. It’s going to be glorious, but it’s taken a few months to do.

How many months?

About three months, but the entire refresh has been over two years because of the way we work. Once we had tackled the mix technology, we had to buy better speakers. All of the seat speakers are being replaced, as well.

Before, it was groundbreaking with three speakers in each seat. A lot of people are doing that now, so we improved the quality of the speakers. The quality of small things is what’s changed in the world.

They’ve gotten smaller, but they’ve gotten better?

Yeah, convenience rules technology. So now we can do things where we can put more things in the seats. Think about it in the round of the Mirage theater here. Mixing your left and right is difficult to judge because you’re inside a circle.

One thing we can do is bring the image down using seat speakers much better and clearer and have that left and right balance. It gives you a much more punchy mix. It’s amazing what you can get out of The Beatles’ music when you get the balance right.

Does the public notice that difference, though?

Yes because you feel it. We can tell instantly because we just switch between the old show and the new show. The demands of people have changed. The audience wants more energy. So it’s good to balance between doing that, yet not lose what we have because 7 million people have seen the show. The Mirage told me it’s the Cirque show with the highest satisfaction.

So Dominic and I, when we came in two years ago to talk about doing this, we sat together and pretended that we hated Cirque and hated The Beatles and what could the show be like. We thought it was a bit yellow, looking old and a bit dusty. The key word we used was vibrant. It needed to be more vibrant.

Because of what’s out there today that wasn’t here 10 years ago?

Because of what we can do today. We felt regardless of anything having never seen the show before, that’s what it could do with. It would be more colorful. Actually, Yoko said when we opened, she said it was a bit dark and not colorful enough. The Beatles were colorful people. We were a bit brown and white.

There wasn’t enough contrast going on, and that’s because of the technology we had at the time. We had the screens in place and the floor had a shine to it, and that means all of the lights from the projections filled the auditorium. Which means the acts that worked really well were the acts with the projectors off because you could get contrast.

Black and white looked fantastic, and you could focus on the artist. We had so much latent light in the room, so we were trying to combat that bizarrely by changing the floor of the theater. We got rid of the latent light, and you now have that contrast of vibrancy. It wasn’t, “Let’s add seven new songs and a water cannon.”

We loved the show. We changed it and put “Twist and Shout” in it and asked how do we improve what we have because people love it, and what would we have done if we had another four months working on it and the technology today.

Click to enlarge photo

Rehearsal for Cirque du Soleil's "The Beatles Love" on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, at the Mirage.

Click to enlarge photo

Rehearsal for Cirque du Soleil's "The Beatles Love" on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, at the Mirage.

Click to enlarge photo

Rehearsal for Cirque du Soleil's "The Beatles Love" on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, at the Mirage.

How do Dominic and you work in the sense of who drives who first?

We drive each other. It’s really interesting. In this refresh, I phoned him up and said it would be great to refresh the show, and he had so many notes. Dominic is obsessed, so he had many notes for the last eight years on how he wanted to make the show better that it fell on deaf ears because people are trying to run a show here.

They’re doing two shows a night five nights a week. They’re not going to stop and say wait a second, Dominic wants this, because you have to let go. We came and talked about it; we get along really well, and we both agreed, we agree on pretty much everything. We talked about “Eleanor Rigby,” and I said to him, “Maybe she should be a young girl, not an old lady.”

I also talked about what he was trying to achieve. I know that in one section of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” he’s very poetic and the girl dancing in that song is supposed to be the young version of Eleanor Rigby. Me being frank and English, I said, “No one knows that. Why don't we make it the same girl?” So then we talk about how that can work.

Is “I Am the Walrus” really working? What if we put “Twist and Shout” here? I played the music to Paul — he never understood why “Walrus” was there anyway. He said, “It’s not in the context.” So we thought let’s put in “Twist and Shout.” It’s a very vibrant song.

What else went, and what else came in?

There are a few little changes that are going on, but most of the song structure is the same. I played around with “Let It Be” instead of “Hey, Jude,” did it, then realized that “Hey, Jude” has such a great sing-along moment that “Let It Be” doesn’t do the same thing. You try things and think, “Well, am I just changing a song for the sake of just changing a song”?

Most of The Beatles’ catalog is in the show. The way Dominic and I work is he’ll say to me, “Wouldn’t it be great to have this?” And I’ll say on the music side to him, “Wouldn’t it be great to have this?”

When we were making the show, I said with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” I can chop the keyboard up to make them into stars, and when we open, we should just have flickering stars to each keyboard sound, and he goes, “That’s good. We should do that.”

Then he’ll say in “Kite,” “We have to have it sound really, really dark. I want it to be about The Beatles having problems in the deep South, and I want to tell that story to the fans.” So I had to work on how to make this song sound dark and depressing because it’s not a dark and depressive song.

So it’s two ways round. “Twist and Shout” is the birth of rock and roll, so I want to create a song using the voices where it opens out. Can we open out of the stage so it will feel as though the cabin club is entering the auditorium, and it’s blowing away the past and it becomes energetic?

We sit and we come up with stupid ideas. I always say to people that the thing that doesn’t cost any money is coming up with ideas. For us, that’s the fun bit. He’s incredible diligent; every single second is accounted for. We work out almost closing our eyes what the show will be like doing music.

So I’m intrigued having gotten re-immersed in The Beatles’ music. You must have been buried in it for months on end! Did you learn new? Did you find new? Did you find new genius?

It’s difficult for me to get away from The Beatles because, since “Love,” I’ve remixed all The Beatles’ number ones and am working on a Ron Howard film at the moment using The Beatles’ music, so I have gone back in.

“Love” is a different thought process. You’re thinking about doing things because it’s such a different discipline. It’s musical color, and I put that here and that here. It’s like Jackson Pollock, and I want it to work like this.

You go though stages where you go through despair … like yesterday complete despair I could never do this, then today you come up with an idea and you’re a genius for about three minutes before you become crap again.

In the opening of the show, Dominic had to come up with some great genius to make it work. The character in a very slow manner comes up the stairs conducting a band in his mind that gets destroyed by the war. The music dies, then music is born again, but there were no brass bands on “Yellow Submarine” that I know of.

Then the other morning, I was awake about 5:30 and I said, “Wait a minute, ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ has a really good brass band. I’ll try that.” We put it in the other day at the opening of the show, and it actually works. I love the new music. It’s amazing how some things work. They’re simple, but they work really well.

So you did find new work with The Beatles? Does it give you a bigger respect for their genius? When did we discover that they were geniuses anyway?

I think it was recently. When I was growing up, getting older my dad was struggling for work at one stage because The Beatles were popular. I remember that he was trying to find bands to work with. When I was in school, they were this iconic thing.

Then this past Christmas Eve, we streamed on all streaming services. It was a good decision because there is a whole generation who doesn’t know The Beatles because they don’t buy records. What’s more important, selling records or being current? Or making people happy? Whatever you want to say.

They got 17 million streams in the first two days. Streaming, think about what that age bracket is. Last time I checked that number streaming, only two of all artists weren’t Justin Bieber.

For a group that no longer exists?

Well, they do kind of exist. The thing about music is that music never dies, and the funny thing about streaming bizarrely is that they don’t even care where it comes from or what age. They just love the sound of it. It’s become non-iconic in a funny way. I mean you don’t need the poster on your wall.

It’s still absolutely amazing that you, me, The Beatles are now going on 50 years.

It doesn’t sound old, that’s the funny thing. People are still trying to get the same sounds. That’s part of the genius, actually. Adele’s record producer came to me wanting to know how to get a Ringo Starr drum set. People still ask this 50 years on, and he’s a hit producer. There’s still that respect that exists.

I remember when they didn’t have a penny. When their manager, Brian Epstein, was scuffling around selling furniture to support them.

That first job was on two-track, “Twist and Shout” was a two-track, so actually doing stuff for the show has been challenging, but we get it done. If you think about the actual process, my dad had a four-track tape machine available, but they made good songs.

Look! Paul just sent me this. He’s now making four-second musical emojis. You can’t keep a good man down. It shows you how many different things he can do. You know what he’s like; he’s extraordinary. Almost unrelenting creativity.

So this has been a two-year journey?

It’s funny you start these things. We started it two years ago. We sat in the theater and decided to change it. The key thing was it didn’t look as vibrant as we thought it should be.

Like an old book in a dingy London bookstore?

We decided to do something about the floor, and we got told off by the usher for staying late in the theater. She said, “Get out!” We had to tell her that we created the show, and it needed to be brought up to date.

And that’s where it started. It was dingy? Is that too strong of a word?

Dingy was the word. It’s funny how it makes a difference. The stage, which is incredibly complex and very, very clever, didn’t have very much acrobatic apparatus, so the kids who are amazing had to struggle. Now there are springboards, and they can do multiple somersaults. Before, they were just running around or spinning.

I think some of it we could have done 10 years ago, but, in the time that we had, we needed to stop and present it. Hindsight is a very valuable thing. You can always make it better, so this became, “OK, let’s make the whole show better.”

You’ll be here for another 10 years. I shall hold on to this recording and play it to you in 10 years to see how old February 2016 is then.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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