Sunday, February 21, 2010

Viva Elvis: B-; Viva Elvis Party: F

Throughout the hourish that I stuck around at the shockingly lame "Viva Elvis" premiere party, I was confronted countless times with a reasonable but strangely irksome question: "What's you think of the show?" It's expected, obviously, but it made me uncomfortable.

Why? Because days later, I'm still not sure. Would I recommend it to die-hard Elvis fans? Absolutely. Would I recommend it to Cirque fans who have seen everything else in Vegas? Sure. Would I recommend it to people who love watching dance? Yes, if they've already seen "Love."

So that's a lot of recommendations. But then there was director/creator Vince Paterson standing outside the theater after the premiere performance openly criticizing pieces of the show that had been moved, changed or shortened. That's just never happened to me before.

There is something perplexing about Viva Elvis, something that Dave McKee of Las Vegas CityLife may have clarified when he pointed out that there are six choreographers and two artistic directors credited. The result is a show with parts that were very enjoyable, parts that were idiotic and almost nothing in between.

A few random thoughts:

* Some of the tableaux were really cool. I still love the hanging guitar acrobatic duo, still love the American flag made out in underwear, still love the bit where a singer stands atop a gigantic wedding dress, home movies of Elvis and Priscilla projected on it. I enjoyed the energy and the showgirl iconography of Viva Las Vegas, too.

* A somewhat violent sequence in which a male dancer is throwing his female partner all over the place made me bust out laughing because her eyes kept popping out of her head as she was thrust about. Similarly, there is a fire-rope-twirling sequence. In both cases, I turned to my companion and whispered: "That's a Roy-and-the-tiger moment waiting to happen."

* The segment where superheros are bouncing about for "Got A Lot o' Livin' To Do" has grown on me after being horrified by it at December's media preview. That said, the notion of scrawling a piece of lyric across the set piece seemed like a bankruptcy of imagination. The show is already only a few steps removed from a very elaborate karaoke performance.

* After the tender wedding scene, something weird happens. These two yellow beds appear on the stage, one with a man and one with a woman laying on it. From the ceiling descends two giant male and female wedding rings, heading for those yellow beds. In each ring was an acrobat of the opposing gender of whoever was laying on the bed. The two couples become physical. My read: After the wedding, the bride and the groom went off to bang other people.

* Many critics have baffled over the awful delivery of the actor who plays cliche-spewing, cigar-chomping Col. Tom Parker, Elvis' manager. My confusion is why he's the guy at all. As I understand it, Parker was one of the key forces in Elvis' destruction, driving him to keep performing to help cover Parker's debts. Would anyone ever consider having a jolly Joe Jackson as loving narrator of a Michael Jackson tribute? No. Well Parker, like Jackson, was a significant reason for the star's untimely demise.

I've summarized the other major Vegas critics in a separate post. But my ultimate conclusion is that I have no conclusion. And that's not good because it means that Viva Elvis is going to blend into the backdrop of the Vegas entertainment scene. People aren't going to care about it one way or the other. And in that way, it will be unique among Cirque's work on the Strip.

* * *

OK, so the party. Memo to Murren and Laliberte: WTF?

Please let me stress that it is NOT that I feel we in the press, the VIPs and the celebrities on hand were owed anything. We're not. But Cirque du Soleil has a reputation when it comes to its post-debut parties and this one was by far and away the limpest, lamest effort by Cirque or any other Vegas standard.

After the show ended, invitees were ushered to Haze, a subterranean nightclub at Aria. There they offered an open bar and some passed hors d'oeuvres. And that was it.

OK, so compare and contrast. For the opening of "Zumanity" they carpeted the top level of the NY-NY parking garage and held an all-night rave. At 2 a.m., in fact, a crane dangled overhead with a dozen or so Cirque performers twirling about over us. It was surreal. Ka (in the Grand Garden Arena) , Love (in a Mirage ballroom) and Believe (at the Luxor pool) were also huge events with dozens of food stations, cool set pieces, the works.

At Haze, there were celebrities around, but they were sequestered in an upstairs area of the club. So the best shot at star-gazing was the Blue Carpet (which I missed to appear on Nevada Week in Review) and after the show when I spotted Taye Diggs, Gene Simmons and Neil Patrick Harris. Actually, a fire alarm about 5 minutes into the show stopped it for about 10 minutes, so I did spy Holly Madison, Ryan Seacrest, Rita Rudner and Lisa Marie Presley then.

Mostly, though, the party baffled me because Aria and CityCenter actually needed this opportunity to show off its new dining options to a large, prestigious crowd of taste-makers. Having been in the conference center at Aria earlier in the day for the Obama speech, I can attest it's gorgeous and plenty spacious for them to have done this back there.

While I get that times are tough, this was a special, concentrated audience of the city and the country's political, business and media leaders. And it's ELVIS. There's a whole food culture, an era, involved here. For "Jersey Boys" at Palazzo, for example, they rolled in all these classic cars and had all this 50s and 60s iconography everywhere. Elvis got cheese puffs and some green liquid sludge in a little glass.

Why does it matter? Well, this was the final shot, the last big CityCenter-related opening. The cycle is over, the complex now settles into whatever its place in the Vegas pecking order it will be.