“Viva Elvis” is the new Cirque du Soleil show at the new Aria Hotel in the new CityCenter. In spite of that newness, “Viva Elvis” is really a throwback to the Pre-Cirque shows in Vegas. The emphasis in “Viva Elvis” is on large scale song and dance numbers, with Cirque du Soleil acrobatics playing a relatively smaller supporting role. “Viva Elvis” reenacts the life of Elvis through song and dance, with some gymnastics here and there.
The show is a partnership with Elvis Presley Enterprises, hence the shows producers had full access to the Elvis recording and video library, which are utilized to full effect. A large screen, center stage is used to play the video clips. The only male voice that is heard in songs is that of Elvis himself, four female singers add live vocals to various numbers plus there is a live on stage band.
Erich van Tourneau the Musical Director and Arranger of the show was charged with making use of the Elvis recordings. He summarized his approach as follows:
I am a big fan of sampling. I use the mixing of styles, periods and cultures to create music that is organic and personal…The leitmotif that guided me throughout the entire creative process was to ask myself, ‘what would the songs of Elvis be like if he were doing them for the first time today?’ “I set out to evoke the soul and the spirit of Elvis Presley, while building a bridge between his music and future generations of fans.
Hardcore Elvis fans may have preferred that the production used old Elvis recordings, but this is Cirque du Soleil after all, and that would have been too simple and ordinary. If you want to hear Elvis songs, sung in their original style “Big Elvis “ at Bill’s Gambling Hall does three laudatory performances Monday-Friday, for free. That’s not to say that you should pass on “Viva Elvis”. The show is fun, in a loud messy way.
The opening number , BLUE SUEDE SHOES includes 30 dancers, 24 acrobats, a eight-piece band, four female singers and a 29 foot 7,000 pound Blue Suede Shoe. The number is fun and energetic, but doesn’t have the typical Cirque du Soleil feel, more like a dance routine turned up a few notches.
Two numbers standout for being complete non sequiturs, GOT A LOT OF LIVIN’ TO DO and WESTERN SCENE.
The GOT A LOT OF LIVIN’ TO DO number is a trampoline scene, with gymnasts dressed as Superheroes bouncing off of a series of trampolines to amazing effect. The combination of how the trampolines are set and the skill of the performers creates some thrilling gravity defying feats. Even
though the gymnastics are relatively simple, the effect is mesmerizing. However, you might be asking yourself, “What do comic book superheros have to do with Elvis Presley? ” Evidently Elvis like comic books, so that’s the connection, really. Its a fun number to watch, so does it really matter that the connection to Elvis is paper thin.
The Western Scene is just that, complete with cowboys doing rope tricks. The rope tricks, complete with flaming lassos was thrilling to watch, particularly from front orchestra seats. I tied to gather some information on these talented rope handlers, but neither the show program nor the press kit provided any information.
The most creative and interesting scene is JAILHOUSE ROCK, which combines an elaborate set with upside down gymnastics, literally. Actually, it is a circus art called “marche inversée.” The lighting was the most interesting of all the scenes, with harsh white light reinforcing the Jailhouse theme. The total effect is surprising, which makes the scene seem like the most Cirque-ish number in the show.
I half expected there to be a Bob Fosse type number, highlighting the Elvis hip-gyrations that ran afoul on Ed Sullivan, but alas it was not meant to be.
During the closing number Red Elvis Scarves are dropped from the ceiling, which look like they would make a great souvenir, but I wouldn’t know for sure, some of these Soccer Moms have some very sharp elbows.
Hi, I’m Ziggy
Ziggy, isn’t that just the perfect nickname for someone that works at Cirque du Soleil. Ziggy is Andrea Ziegler, the Dance Master at “Viva Elvis”. I met with Andrea and Cirque du Soleil Publicist Ann Paladie the day after I saw “Viva Elvis”. Andrea was a performer in Mystere before becoming Dance Master.
You might be wondering what exactly a Dance Master does, and Andrea rattled-off a long list of responsibilities when I inquired, one of which was “Keep all the dancers happy”, talk about unrealistic job requirements!
I was curious to hear Andrea and Ann’s reaction to the Internet Buzz about “Viva Elvis”, which has been less positive than most Cirque shows. Neither showed much interest in that inquiry. The main focus of Internet Buzz criticism of “Viva Elvis” is that it is not a typical Cirque du Soleil show, with song and dance routines taking a larger role than acrobatics. I suspect the Internet Buzz would be much more favorable if you removed Cirque du Soleil from the title, in that with the Cirque name attached to the show, the audience has come to expect extravagant acrobatics and gymnastics.
Andrea did mention that all Cirque shows undergo continual assessment by the creative team, with tweaks being made to even veteran shows like Mystere. The show has already had one major overhaul since opening. One aspect of the show that could clearly use a re-work is the Colonel Parker character which appears between scenes, much to the annoyance of many in the audience.
In discussing some of the numbers with Andrea, it became clear where you sit in the audience has a major impact on your perception of the show. I had great seats, front and center, however, I clearly missed some of the details Andrea mentioned. I think because I was sitting too close to the stage to take in everything. The details involved the synchronization of the dancers with the video screen. If you are sitting close to the stage you tend to focus solely on the dancers, or at least I did. Andrea said she preferred to watch “Viva Elvis” further back in the the audience, and I think I agree with her. Its great sitting close enough so that you can see the expressions on the performers faces, but your span of vision is too narrow to take in all the action.
Put “Viva Elvis” on Your List of Vegas Shows
“Viva Elvis” deserves a spot on your list of Vegas shows to see. Keep in mind the show is more dance focused than acrobatic focused and remember to be quick to your feet if your want a Red Elvis Scarf.
I would like thank Jamie Helmick from Cirque du Soleil for providing tickets to “Viva Elvis”, and Andrea Ziegler and Ann Paladie for meeting with me to discuss the show. All photos courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.
Songs in Viva Elvis
- Thus Spake Zarathustra
- Blue Suede Shoes
- Don’t Be Cruel
- One Night With You
- All Shook Up
- Got A Lot Of Livin’ To Do
- Heartbreak Hotel
- Love Me Tender
- Return To Sender
- Are You Lonesome Tonight
- Western Montage: (Mystery Train / Blue Moon Of Kentucky / I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine /Trying To Get To You / Baby What You Want Me To Do / Tiger Man)
- Burning Love
- Bossa Nova
- King Creole
- Jailhouse Rock
- It’s Now Or Never
- Can’t Help Falling In Love
- Love Me / Don’t
- Viva Las Vegas
- Suspicious Minds
- Hound Dog