June 18, 2010
Cirque du Soleil’s Viva ELVIS was one of the real highlights of our 10th anniverary celebrations in Las Vegas. The show, which describes itself as a fusion of dance, acrobatics and live music, is a tribute to the life and music of Elvis Presley and tells its story in a unique and innovative way through all the well-known milestones of his life.
The audience were in for a shock on the night we attended the show, as an extra cast member whizzed across the stage in the back of a pink cadillac. We can safely report that after his moment of glory, he happily exited stage right before any acrobatic stunts could be attempted.
The entire Viva ELVIS spectacle is absolutely extraordinary. The theatre at the Aria was purpose built for this show, and is on a scale that boggles the mind. The centre of the stage is divided into 16 different platforms which can rise to a height of 10 ft. Powerful motors 26ft below the stage raise the platforms up and down and at various points they’re used to support singers, dancers, acrobats and the monumental stage sets – one of which is a blue suede shoe weighing 7,000 lbs!
Before the show, we put a few questions to Artistic Director Gene Lubas, who has been involved from the very start and whose role now is to maintain the show’s artistic integrity. Read on to hear more about the show’s beginnings and his personal highlights…
Viva ELVIS premiered in February this year to enormous critical acclaim. How did the concept for the show come about and what are its aims?
A few years back Cirque du Soleil decided to join with Elvis Presley Enterprises to do a true and honest celebration of Elvis Presley’s music with a quality treatment never seen before in the world. As many know, a lot of Elvis tribute shows tend not to be of high quality, but Cirque knew they could give the king of rock ‘n roll the treatment his story and music would deserve.
What kind of approaches did you consider when devising a show about Elvis? Did you start with the man or the music?
The initial plan was to do a biographical show. We began to study his story first and then we went after the Elvis songbook to support the story. In no way would we do a chronological account of his music.
The show is more theatrical than previous Cirque du Soleil productions. Was it important to fulfil the public expectation of being amazed, acrobatically, but to combine this with the essence of Elvis’ legendary Las Vegas performances?
At Cirque we have expectations from our fans. However, we didn’t want to simply do a “Cirque show” to Elvis music. As each of our shows are completely different from one another our goal is to entertain and satisfy the public. We wanted to create something memorable, fun and most of all true to Elvis, his story, his memory and his music and at the same time allow the public to have a fantastic evening of entertainment.
What kind of artistic freedom has working in a custom-built theatre given you?
With one of America’s largest stages and its 17 separate lifts in the stagefloor, as well as the versatility of the height and depth of the stage space, we’re able to bring the Cirque magic into the production by creating our interpretation of Elvis’s story and the meaning of his music and the effect it had and still has on the world.
What were your main inspirations for the stage design?
The height of Elvis’ Vegas popularity was the 1970s. He performed at the International Hotel (currently the Vegas Hilton) and its theatre design was the traditional proscenium stage. The rock ‘n roll concert venues of the 1970s were not the scenic monsters they are of the 21st century. Wood and banquette style seating were both very popular interior decorating treatments of the time, which we’ve used in our theatre. We were aiming to place the show in a rock ‘n roll concert venue in the style of how Elvis’ shows were directed when he performed in Vegas in the 70s.
How does Viva ELVIS differ stylistically from other Cirque shows?
There are several concepts that make Viva ELVIS completely different from other Cirque shows: there’s the abstract biography of Elvis, and a narrative character (Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker) commenting on episodes of the king’s life. But the real star of the show is the music and much of the focus is on dance styles fused with acrobatics.
What has been the highlight of working on this show?
The highlight for me was becoming a student of the Elvis Presley legend, his musical influences, and the frenzy that surrounded him. Most importantly, getting to know Priscilla and having long detailed discussions about Elvis and their relationship make this project one of the best in my life.
If you want to see Viva ELVIS then your only option is to come to Las Vegas, so what are you waiting for?
Virgin Atlantic will get you here, or consider taking a tailor made holiday courtesy of Virgin Holidays. Have you been to Vegas recently and seen the show? What did you think? Comments, as always, are welcome below.