The newest Cirque du Soleil show on the Strip is a tribute to Elvis Presley. // © Julie Aucoin 2010
It can be said that Elvis Presley owes a great deal to Las Vegas, the city responsible for his comeback of 57 sold-out concerts in the early 1970s. But the reverse is likely truer — the image of Elvis, the legend who is noted as one of the top-selling musicians of all time, is practically inseparable from the city he loved so much. It seems, therefore, only a natural fit that the newest Cirque du Soleil show on the Strip celebrates the unwavering magnetism of both entities.
Before the February world premier of “Viva Elvis Cirque du Soleil” at Aria Resort & Casino, TravelAge West was given an early preview. Flipping through the program, it became clear that the new 90-minute-long, Elvis-themed production is one of the most intensely researched Vegas performances to date. According to the program notes, the entire cast not only took weekly, written Elvis exams during the rehearsal process, but also paid homage to the King with a visit to the Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tenn.
“We want people to remember Elvis,” said the show’s director of creation, Armand Thomas, after the preview. “He changed music.”
Based on the sneak peak we received, “Viva Elvis” appeared to be different from the typical Cirque show, relying less on acrobatics and more on narrative, flashy dance numbers and live music. The show breaks from the Cirque formula early on, when the audience is introduced to the star of the show via a first-person narrator, Elvis’ long-time manager “Colonel” Tom Parker. Though clunky at times, the manager’s speech, was filled with essential nuggets of biographical information that would later come to life in a successive scene themed with one of Elvis’ hit songs. Through this technique, the audience learned that The King had a stillborn twin and, in one of the next scenes, two acrobats in matching costumes gracefully flipped through and dangled from a skeleton frame of a giant guitar, symbolic of their mother’s womb. As a female cast member sang “One Night,” the twinning acrobats chased and mimicked each other’s movements until one appeared to lose his balance and fall to his immanent death.
From beginning to end, the show is quite the spectacle — and for good reason since Elvis was known in his late career for extravagance and excess. The cast’s costumes are a case in point, with 53,000 Swarovski crystal rhinestones and 8,000 printed feathers used in their design.
Face to Face With the Legend
While Vegas has been known for having the top Elvis impersonators in the country, don’t expect to see them on stage, vying for the spotlight. “Viva Elvis” makes it clear that The King’s talent is untouchable, best represented by the man himself. Unlike “The Beatles Love, Cirque du Soleil,” in which the audience never sees The Fab Four’s faces, Elvis’ image seems omnipresent as old family photographs, clips from newsreels and a montage of kissing scenes from his 31 Hollywood films recall the entertainer’s charisma and immanent charm.
A live band, drawing upon an arsenal of various percussive instruments, guitars, a trombone, a trumpet and a saxophone, breathe new life into Elvis’ music. From a gospel version of “All Shook Up” to a step dancing interpretation of “Return to Sender,” the show was anything but predictable.
“People don’t want to come to the show and hear the music exactly as they would on a CD at home, which is why we experimented with different versions of the classics,” Thomas said.
What the audience is looking for, he explained, is accessibility.
“Elvis is our native son,” Thomas said. “He was vulnerable, someone people can relate to.”
That said, the Cirque show, as a whole, can be seen as not only a tribute to an American icon but, perhaps, a tribute to the fans and the city that continues to keep his memory and music alive.
Performances take place twice nightly, with the exception of Wednesday and Thursday nights, and tickets range from $99-$175 per person.
Aria Resort & Casino
Viva Elvis Cirque du Soleil