Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016 | 3:04 p.m.
Two years ago, an unsuspecting usher at “The Beatles Love” theater at the Mirage tried to eject two men late at night after the show had finished. They were inspecting the floor and complaining that it had become dark and dirty from eight years of artists and athletes performing on it twice nightly.
As the usher warned them she’d have to call security if they didn’t leave, Dominic Champagne and Giles Martin agreed that their show had to be brought up to date. They then explained that they were the director and musical director of “Love” and that they had to embark on a long journey for its refresh of adding more new oomph to the existing wow.
Finally, she believed them, let them stay, and the two Cirque du Soleil creative geniuses met first thing the next morning to start the extraordinary process. Their dream came to fruition last week as final rehearsals for the “new look” to “Love” got underway.
The reimagined and transformed show is nearly ready to be unveiled with new The Beatles imagery, songs, technology, colors, costumes and acts on Thursday, Feb. 25. That floor? It’s gone and replaced with a new one with springboards built just below its surface to give acrobats an extra bounce.
I was invited to sit in on a dress rehearsal last Friday while contributing photographer Tom Donoghue shot new photos. I talked with Giles and Cirque’s creation director, Chantal Tremblay, as we watched Dominic direct his cast. Here in two parts are my interviews with Chantal and Giles, with ladies first.
Why the need to fix something that wasn’t broken? When it’s going well and there are no problems and you have nightly, sold-out audiences, why tear it apart and start all over again? How much are you changing?
I think because we like the show so much and it’s going really well, it’s kind of giving back to the people after 10 years. We’re adding more oomph to the wow that already existed.
The 10th anniversary celebration with Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison is this July, and we want to use the new technology and projection and choreography that wasn’t available to us a decade ago.
We looked at it color-wise, happy-wise, also of what we can give back and take the show even higher. It’s true that we have taken many steps. We’re touching everything, so there will be a lot of new projection content. We also have new images of The Beatles that we didn’t have 10 years ago.
We didn’t have archives of The Beatles themselves, and that went into the show now because we have that confidence with ourselves, Cirque and Apple. That relationship is one that has gone very well, so those possibilities are there now.
Is it OK for me to use the words top-to-bottom overhaul? A top-to-bottom reimagining?
For sure. We have more changes in some of the departments, for example projection, but we’re touching choreography, costumes, colors. Yes, we’re touching everything, acrobatic numbers, new stuff also, and a surprise we’ll keep for when we reopen.
Chicken-and-egg question. What comes first? Your new creative or refreshed music?
For Dominic, the director, it’s the music that’s something really important. He created this show with that vision in mind from the very beginning.
So Giles says to Dominic, “I would like to put in five new Beatles pieces,” then does Dominic take those five pieces and creates scenes around it? How does their process work?
I think they’re really fused together in that sense because they know each other well. It’s not one comes before the other one. I would say it’s from discussion and seeing the rhythm of the show. They’re doing it so much together.
So it is simultaneous?
Yes, yes, and looking at moments of the show and seeing that some moments acting-wise are good, and Dominic wants to stretch it so Giles will propose something, also Giles will propose artistically sometimes, so their discussion is really global about the show together.
At the risk of sounding flippant, has Dominic also become a musician and Giles a director?
I would say yes. You can hear Dominic singing all of the time. He knows so much of this music and so much of the timing and every effect that he’s directing like that. He’s a total Beatles fan. He knows all their music by heart. He worked on that music; he studied that music.
(Dominic was the original director of “Love” after staging “Zumanity” still playing at New York-New York since 2003 and the touring company of “Vareki” since 2002.)
We’re watching the high-speed skaters rehearsing. Are they the most gee-whiz moment of the show?
Oh, no, we also have other moments. Some of the wow moments we had kind of oomphed them more now. What’s interesting I would say is that the acrobatic act for the “Revolution” number, the “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” choreograph,” with the acrobatics, we had to make changes to the set, which brings performances to a higher level. We’re trying to push and get to a higher place.
We haven’t taken out any acts or moved them to another show or moved another show’s acts over to “Love.” Everything is done in regard of “The Beatles Love.” We have changes in a couple of acts. We have “Yesterday,” which will have new acrobatics. We used to have choreography for “Yesterday,” but now it’s acrobatics.
Also, we have changed something in “I Want You.” That’s a new act. After that, the true numbers, the big numbers like “Revolution” and “Hold Your Hand,” those have been more technicality, more trampoline, more acrobatic flips and more things in the set, which help us to go higher with the performance.
We have replaced … we added “Twist and Shout” with its own choreography. “I Am the Walrus” is no longer there, so that was one other change. It’s a great song, but “Twist and Shout” also is a real fan favorite. It’s one of the top Beatles songs.
These changes are a two-year process. Is it difficult for the actors to rehearse/prep a new show by day when they still have the existing show to do every night? How do they avoid confusion in their brain from day to night making the changes?
It’s totally the reverse in the sense that they are so happy to be able to live through a little creation. We have original cast members, but we also have new artists over the 10 years who didn’t work with Dominic, so by touching the show again and working with him … we did some checkpoint, we call it.
Now we’re doing staging officially, so we’re really in the mode of creation, and the artists love it because they have that chance to be there and listen to the direction of what he wants in those numbers, making those changes and tweaks and be able to participate inside that. The performers and technical crew want to work and help to make changes for the show, which is going well.
When somebody comes back after next week who’s seen “Love” three or four times over the last decade, this is going to look and feel completely new?
They will see the difference. They will see the new, happy colors. They will see visually new things because of the choreography and acrobatic, music and projection. People will see the difference.
As we’re touching everything, as of the moment today we are at about 70 percent of the changes. We are going to go a little bit further as we get closer to July. We’re in the process, but we’re not totally finished.
Is today’s technology light-years ahead of what you had to start with 10 years ago? Is it a quantum leap forward with video, lasers, electronics?
In technology, yes. In projection, there are more possibilities. That’s what we’re trying to push. Also, the artistic creativity of images, the content itself and also now having the chance to have the imagery of The Beatles themselves from their own archives.
This is so much better. You’ll see inside the show like Abbey Road with “My Guitar” still there. Visually, we went with that technology to go somewhere else. These are the changes that people will see who already know the show well.
Where did you get the new Beatles imagery?
From them! We’ve been working with Paul and archivists from Apple. Having the archives now makes that all possible. We presented the changes to The Beatles, Yoko and Olivia. All of that is done together with them. We have a great relationship with them. It’s really a happy way of doing a new creation.
Did they encourage you? Did they want to leave it the same? Sometimes, artists don’t like to touch what’s already successful. Did artists resist, or did they welcome change with open arms?
They really welcome it because they have confidence in Dominic. We have shown them what the direction is, they like it, they have places to give comments, and Dominic listens. It’s really open. They’re not restricted, they love the show, they think it’s good and know it can be better. They’re really with us.
We’re in February, they’ll be here in July for the 10th anniversary. Do you keep going right up until July?
The show we’re going to have is rolling now. We’ll continue to add those changes we know we still have to put in the show, but the big chunk of work is right now.
There are steps in March and April because some costumes will keep coming in, so all of this polishing I would say will keep happening until July. Audiences will see these new elements included when we start again Feb. 25.
We’re dark until next Thursday. Dominic came in August to do a checkpoint. From there, some things were tried and put in the show. Timing also to make sure the show was really tight.
After that, they kept working until we came back in December for another checkpoint. You’re now watching the big chunk. Between each of those checkpoints, things were worked on during the “old” show.
Does the show get longer? Shorter? Or because of the complicated mechanics of the unique stage and computer controls, do you have to keep it to the exact running time?
We are on the same running time. Maybe a few minutes more, I would say, but not much.
We have new cast. For example, yesterday we had a couple of acrobats who are new to the show, and inside of the dancers and acrobats, yes, we have new artists.
And everybody in the cast and crew is really up for this?
Totally. I saw them doing like probably six hours of “Twist and Shout” without stopping. They were going, going, going, so people are happy about this part of touching and refreshing this show.
It always amazes me when producers have it right that they want to change it. I always think once you’ve got a format solid and it works, I understand tweaking, but I don’t understand wholesale change.
You could still call it creative tweaking. I mean “Love” is still “Love.” It’s just that all our oomphs got a lot more wow.
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.
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