LAS VEGAS – An empty tricycle trailed by a row of small yellow galoshes sits on the concrete floor.
Along the wall, the massive hands of a Blue Meanie hang next to a skirt of mannequin legs.
Round a corner and behold a half-pipe fitted with measuring sticks at the top, guides for roller-skating acrobats to practice their airborne maneuvers.
They’re all part of the glorious mishmash of props stashed backstage at “The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil,” a valentine to the Fab Four as much as it is a colorful uplift powered by one of the headiest catalogs in music history.
The trippy, sound-intensive production – three speakers are embedded in every seat headrest – recently celebrated its 16th anniversary, and is currently the fourth longest-running Cirque among the Las Vegas offerings.
The show’s cast and production team hope to build on that tenure, despite some anxieties about the future of “Love.”
The in-the-round show – an anomaly in Cirque staging – opened in its $100 million signature theater at The Mirage in 2006 as the first to feature all pre-recorded music and fixate on a singular music act. (“Viva Elvis” followed in 2010 at Aria Resort & Casino for a disappointing two-year stint, while the well-regarded “Michael Jackson ONE” continues to dazzle at Mandalay Bay after nearly a decade.)
“The stage is one of the stars of the show,” says Tim Smith, senior artistic director of “Love.”
A specialized soundtrack of Beatles songs reconstructed by the late George Martin and son Giles remains a primary draw, and the show has been blessed by surviving band members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. “Love” has also been endorsed by Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison as family surrogates for John Lennon and George Harrison.
But the recent sale of The Mirage by MGM Resorts International to Hard Rock International, which is expected to acquire operations of the property later this year, shrouds “Love” with uncertainty.
“There’s an emotional attachment to ‘Love’ because it is different than the other Cirque shows. But it still feels like a musical and (those types of productions) haven’t done fantastically in Vegas,” says Scott Roeben, founder of the Vital Vegas blog and columnist for Casino.org. “It’s done fine (financially), but ‘fine’ isn’t enough for the Hard Rock to say, this has to stay.”
Since reopening in August after a nearly 17-month pandemic shutdown, “Love” has welcomed about half a million visitors, according to the show.
Roeben notes the audience demographic for a Beatles-centric production might not be a priority for the Hard Rock.
“The Beatles are kind of beloved, but that audience is getting older, and while they are a ticket-buying audience, that audience is not growing,” he says. ” ‘Love’ is a very specific show. You’d better like The Beatles and if you’re 20 years old, you might not know (their music) that well. Hard Rock is looking at two years, five years, 10 years from now. What are they going to build for a foundation? I don’t think it’s The Beatles.”
But the Cirque camp remains sanguine.
Eric Grilly, president of resident and affiliate shows divisions for Cirque du Soleil, tells USA TODAY in a statement, “We look forward to working with MGM Resorts and Hard Rock International through this transition. We hope to have news to share in the coming months when the sale is finalized.”
For now, the international cast of nearly 70 artists and 100-plus crew and tech specialists continue to romp through “Love” twice a night, five times a week.
The soundtrack – which earned two Grammy Awards in 2008 – is the heartbeat of “Love.” But the collective beauty of song stitchings and mashups initially prompted scorn, Giles Martin says.
“When I was at Abbey Road doing the project, I was vilified by people there. I was the new guy and they’re going, ‘What is George Martin’s son doing, chopping up Beatles songs?’ The whole idea sounds ridiculous, especially if you’re a purist,” he says on a video call from the Abbey Road Studios. “I thought I’d get fired and the whole thing wasn’t going to work. My dad initially thought I’d gone too far and Paul (McCartney) came in and said, ‘I love this,’ so my dad said, ‘If he said it’s all right, it’s all right.’ ”
“Love” received a refresh in 2016 – more images of The Beatles were inserted into visuals, an “I Am the Walrus” act was axed for “Twist and Shout” – but one of the foundations of the production’s endurance, according to Smith, is continual tweaking.
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The presentation of “Blackbird” has undergone several metamorphoses, shifting from whimsical to thoughtful; the elegant trapeze routine during “Yesterday” is tuned to the strengths of whichever acrobatic duo is performing; trampoline work during a frenetic “Revolution/Back in the U.S.S.R.” required a month to perfect.
“That’s testament to why our shows run so long,” says Smith, who joined “Love” six years ago. “Often, producers say if the T-shirt is selling, don’t change anything. … Where the show is now, we’ve hit a great stride with dancing and acrobatics.”
But even with modifications, the meticulous details that thrill Beatles fans – such as the license plate (LMW 28IF) seen in the background of the “Abbey Road” album cover appearing on a pop-apart Volkswagen in the show – remain hallmarks of a production that requires more than 600 props.
Throughout the pandemic closure of “Love,” a tech crew regularly checked on the complicated mechanisms of the stage to ensure preservation.
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Before “reopening night” last summer, the production team had eight weeks to resume operations, during which they hired 15 new artists to replace those who left the cast during the COVID-19-enforced shuttering. It typically takes about six weeks to learn a new act, so the timeline was tight.
“That’s a lot to learn,” Smith says. “But it was great when we were able to get back to rehearsing because we got to look at (the show) like a new creation.”
Regardless of the future, the “Love” team isn’t wavering in its dedication to showmanship, eyebrow-raising acrobatics and lavishly creative presentations of Beatles songs.
“It’s the only place in the world you can step into The Beatles’ universe,” Martin says. “I always liked the idea that it was The Beatles’ room. I love that about Vegas – you’re surrounded by the dinging of slot machines and people wandering around with yards of tequila and then you walk into the hallowed grounds of ‘Love.’ I get the same thrill every time I walk in that theater.”