Sunday, December 20, 2009

Opening Aria III: The Elvis Maybe-Mess

Back when I was lambasting MGM Mirage for the hideous and tacky Viva Elvis banner adorning the already tragic Harmon, CEO Jim Murren told me it was necessary to promote the show and build awareness. I replied that the one part of CityCenter he needn't worry about was his Cirque show. It seemed like a no-brainer. Everyone loves the music and Cirque's prior similar endeavor, Love, was such a knockout. They'd earned our trust, even despite their idiotic Criss Angel foray.

Oops. Murren knew something I didn't.

I'm not ready to declare this show an official disaster yet because it sounds from the coverage by Mike Weatherford that they have dramatic overhaul plans already in motion. Also, they didn't show the press the whole thing at the Dec. 15 preview.

What they did show us, though, is troubling. And you have to think that they put their best 15 minutes forward for the media, right? Here's my YouTube video of about a half-minute:

That number, the Blue Suede Shoes bit, was actually a good opening even if it does feature an Elvis impersonator on stilts. [Aside: Why did Doug Elfman write that there are no Elvis impersonators in the show when he attended this preview and saw this number?] And I loved the imagery of the two acrobats on the hanging guitar.

The trouble I'm sensing, though, is that this show is going to be incredibly literal and obsessed with Elvis the quirky celebrity instead of Elvis the groundbreaking musician. Notice that the people we saw from the Elvis background at that press conference were those responsible for the mass-merchandising of dead Elvis. Unlike with "Love," we never heard that they were using original tracks, remastering old music, bringing in the folks who created it, nothing. There's been no emphasis at all on the history of this music. They're certainly not going to win any Grammys for the cast recording of this.

The reason "Love" works is because Cirque trusts that we are aware of the Beatles and their significance and gets us to refocus on the wonderful music against some visually inventive tableaux. When you use song lyrics as decorations...'re tapped out of imagination. In this sequence, there are actors in superhero capes and tights running all over the place doing nothing in particular. If you know this bit of Elvis trivia, you get it. If you don't, you're confused. Nothing in Love that is biographical about the Beatles, by contrast, confuses anyone or leaves anyone feeling left out. Other parts they showed feature really uninspiring choreography and uninteresting visuals.

It's telling that the Viva Elvis theater didn't even bother to include speakers in the seats as Cirque did for Love and Ka. That showed that they aimed at providing a pitch-perfect acoustical experience for the guests. The big innovation at Viva Elvis is... bus-style seating with cupholders in front, not besides, the guest. Wow.

In fact, the whole theater is, to my mind, recession-era Cirque. They built this thing from the ground up technological gizmos? No folding or flying stage? Nothing transformative? Just a standard-issue proscenium theater that could, if need be, be modestly altered for some other show?

Ka, Zumanity and Love were all renovations of existing theaters -- EFX, Madhattan and Siegfried & Roy respectively -- and yet they really tricked them out or gave them appropriate stylizing. No tricks at Viva Elvis, except those cupholders.

It's no surprise -- and hard to fault them -- for going apeshit on the souvenir side of this.

Again, I look forward to seeing the whole show. I agree with Elfman that they shouldn't be charging serious money ($87-$149) to see the thing if it's clearly in preliminary form, but that's an ongoing argument that Mike Weatherford and I have been beating the drum about for years and nobody in Montreal seems to give a damn.

But the early signs are really not good. They clearly didn't care enough about this thing to really invest in the theater in a way that would make this anything more than a typical show experience. And coming from the folks who redefined the live show experience via their Vegas efforts, that's quite a disappointment.


Brian Fey said...

I saw the opening performance of this show, and while it was ok, if I didn't know it was a Cirque show, I'd have guessed that it wasn't. You hit the nail right on the head. One of the most amazing parts of a CDS show, is the theater itself. And I want to stress, this show wasn't bad, it just wasn't great. I came across to me as just another Broadway show, that could easily go on tour, because this is just another theater. I too was shocked, by there not being speakers in the seats. I was also blow away that the theater was so boring. As great as CDS shows generally are, the their theaters are as great as the shows themselves. Love, KA, O, these theaters are amazing, they will do things you've never seen in any theater ever before. The theaters make the show, and are as much a part of the show as the show itself. I am pretty stunned, how boring this theater is, for MGM's new world class $8.5Billion dollar property. In the end CDS will make some changes to the show, and it will do fine. MGM is thinking ahead, and looking at who has money to spend, and that is baby boomers. I can't think of any bigger show for baby boomers than Elvis. This show is just another example of the rest of Aria, its ok, but its no game changer. At least, I don't think it is. A year or two from now, we shall see if I'm right.

VegasLane said...

Many thanks for the Elvis Cirque show clip. This marks just one more major disappointment with respect to City Center. This show looks like an amateur production and certainly not worthy of the Cirque brand. I have made one trip to see the property and I will not be going back. City Center is certainly no game changer. And it is not representative of the name City Center as there is no "city" feel or environment. It is cold, sterile and way to big. It is hard to imagine that a group of hotel executives could have considered this design competitive or marketable to what already exists in Las Vegas. Obviously, this project was created for a much different time than our current global economic strife. Three non-gaming hotels would have been a stretch during the boom years. Now, label City Center mission impossible. Mandarin Oriental is non-smoking along with the rest of the project. Did anyone consider how many Orientals smoke? About 70%. And the Oriental gaming market has moved to Macau for the most part. The era of getting "dressed" to walk through a hotel in Las Vegas has passed. Back in the 60's and early 70's, I wore a jacket and tie when I played at Caesars Palace. And I sat next to some of the most elegantly dressed Oriental people imaginable. Now you see people in shorts and T-shirts, some with their bellies hanging out playing the slots. Times have changed. City Center is a project that has the look and feel of a time which has long past and shall never return. I wish them well, but they need to have bankruptcy counsel retained while they still have the money, because that event is imminent. MGM needs to cash flow over $600 million a year just to pay the interest on the debt. And they have no permanent financing, just bank notes with quarterly interest due. I was shocked to see that the Aria buffet is virtually the same as the layout as the Mirage. Cold sterile stainless steel. And the buffet was virtually empty last Friday. But most revealing is the lack of interest by Las Vegas locals. When the M Resort opened, the place was packed for weeks. MGM should erect a sign that says "Vegas locals not welcome."

Bay in TN said...

But -- well, gosh. I'm not an Elvis fan. I'm not intimately acquainted with his catalog of music, the way that I know every note of the Beatles catalog. Furthermore, I just plain prefer the Beatles' sound over that of Elvis.

Maybe the difference between this production and "Love" is that even the Cirque people had a preference, too, and they already staged it.

I'm just sayin'. Is all.

Anonymous said...


Same old Cirque crap-ola you journalists are paid to promote as gold 'cause the casinos give you the "oooh, all exclusive VIP tour/seating, free champagne!"

Sickly Center is for those who have more dollars than sense/cents.

As for the rest of us...yawn!

Anonymous said...

On second thought...scratch the "free champagne" & change it to ..."Oooh! Free sliders!"

Hey, Dubai World!
I can git sliders anywhere...Applebees, Denny's, Carl Jr.

The fancy nouveau term for burgers!

David Green said...

Anon: Did you actually read this post? Or Steve's vast body of coverage of CityCenter, much of which has been very critical? Sure doesn't seem like it.