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:
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...
...you'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...
...school 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 with...no 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.