Sunday, February 21, 2010

Summary of Judgment: Viva Elvis

Cirque du Soleil must've been feeling mighty fine last week after that unequivocal, utterly puzzling super-duper thumbs up from Richard Corliss of Time Magazine,
who declared "Viva Elvis" as "an experience that's both symphonic and in every way fantastic" and said "no tribute show can touch this one in its level of sophistication and its power of evocation."

But now here comes the real critics, the ones who don't necessary matter as much for a quote in an ad in Conde Nast Traveler but whose ability to assess this against not just Cirque's ouevre but what else is on stage in Las Vegas makes them far more useful to your travel preparations.

These commentaries are so consistent and fit precisely with my own views that it makes you wonder if Corliss was positioning for some special access to Cirque's New York show, Banana Shpeel or looking ahead to their Kodak Theatre show. Or maybe he just actually thought it was that good.

Here's a summary:

* Mike Weatherford of the Review Journal gave the show a lukewarm B. "Isn't it supposed to aim just a bit higher?" he asks of the production's ambition. He's baffled by the fiery-rope-twirling sequence and sees in it an effete-Canada-v-white-trash-Deep-South back story. It is "a genuine "Huh?" moment, one cynics might see as Cirque wandering adrift in its first journey to the red states, uncomfortable and pandering to strangers." His summary may be this line: "'Viva Elvis' is indeed a happy mess. It's loud and joyful and full of surprises, even if they stem from jarring in­consistency."

* Dave McKee of Las Vegas CityLife says it's "a noisy, incoherent mess." The superhero trampoline sequence to "Got a Lot O' Livin' To Do" is "just long, shapeless and ultimately pointless." Echoing my own concerns about the acoustical system in the theater and the treatment of the music itself, McKee writes: "Erich van Tourneau has dumped the original recordings into a gumbo of backing tracks, and live vocals and instrumentals, then puréed them into incomprehensibility. The theater’s sound system, which sounds like being trapped inside a cheap stereo speaker, only makes things worse." But how could that BE? Cirque CEO Daniel Lamarre told me it was as sophisticated as Love!

* John Katsilometes of the Las Vegas Sun also wonders about the trampoline scene. "You're wondering what is the point of all these costumed characters bounding around the stage other than to take a segment of Elvis' personality and expand upon it simply because costumed characters jumping on trampolines is a Cirque hallmark." Of a flaming-rope-twirling scene, he writes, "It's terrific fun, but when we think of Elvis, is a cowpoke spinning a flaming lasso something that springs to mind?" Also, "The production does present several moments when you're unconvinced about the strength of the link between what you're watching to the life and career of the King."

* Joe Brown of the Las Vegas Weekly and Sun pulls a bait and switch in his commentary, declaring up top the show is "likely to be lucky number seven for Cirque du Soleil." So the Montreal Mafia thinks, "Whew." But then Brown gets his digs in. "Viva Elvis" is probably good enough to crowd-please, but that doesn't mean it's any good, he says. "[I]t delivers exactly what many — most, probably — want from a Vegas show. Which would be vivid image after eye-sizzling sensation. Cirque is at its peak technically here — nobody (except maybe China) can top the Canadian spectacle factory’s powers when it comes to creating visceral images. But the flaw of this show, the missed opportunity, is that something so stylish is so insubstantial. ... The directors and designers have taken the all-too-familiar iconography of Elvis, dipped it in cheese, deep-fried it, sprayed a hard candy coating over it and dished it up on a stick. Eighteen-hundred served, twice nightly. Next!" And, finally: "Watching "Viva Elvis" is an oddly inert and passive experience, like watching a movie."

* Ubiquitous travel freelancer Eric Gladstone, on his Orbitz.Com blog reviewing all seven Cirque shows in Vegas, draws similar conclusions and makes the inevitable and deadly comparison to Love as in "unlike Love, Viva Elvis is an oddly disjointed, sloppy set of postcards caricaturing episodes in The King’s life." Like me, he likes some bits a lot but wonders what it all adds up to. He also praises the theater, which I find boring. In fact, the school-bus-bench-style seats with no arm rests are just irksome.

My own conflicted review is here.


EC Gladstone said...

Don't leave me out of the lovefest!