It was the equivalent of a “mea culpa” from the Pope.
Last week, Cirque du Soleil, the Vatican of Vegas entertainment, made the rare announcement it would be closing Viva Elvis, the newest of its seven shows on the Strip, in January 2012 to make changes—$10 million worth, to be specific. True, Cirque has always tweaked its shows after opening, but this kind of bold, public, expensive retooling is unprecedented.
It’s also laden with irony. When the anchor entertainment of CityCenter opened in February 2010, most probably expected that we’d get an iconic Elvis impersonator with a lot of Cirque acrobatic interpretation. Instead, what first appeared was something that might be described as the Elvis story told by the cast of Glee: not a single male vocalist, and choreography more inspired by vintage Broadway than Montreal.
Reception of the show has been decidedly mixed, with critics like Time’s Richard Corliss seeking out new superlatives (“Cirque is throwing its most joyous party ever …”) and others noting room for significant improvement. The show does have its supporters, even repeat visitors (I know, I’ve met them), but apparently they don’t represent, as Cirque’s publicists put it, “the type of demographics we’d like to have.” Read: the paying type.
Thus—and here’s the irony—Viva Elvis will now be “more of an acrobatic Cirque du Soleil spectacular production,” incorporating talent from Zed (a Cirque show at Tokyo Disney that is closing in December) and “featuring Elvis as a singer.”
Still, after struggling for 22 months, those changes may not be enough. So allow us to offer Cirque a few additional suggestions, 100 percent free of charge:
Come Back, Baby, Come Back
A huge part of Elvis’ appeal was how grey and drab pop culture was when he arrived, ignoring many boundaries and divisions in taste, class, race and economics. That is a much more visceral moment than the umpteenth re-interpretation of “Jailhouse Rock.”
That’s All Right
Keep the trampolining superheroes, lassoing cowgirls and gospel choir, but weave them into a story line that gives them context. Also, the rare film clips of Elvis and the killer live band (well, the drummers, anyway).
A Little More Conversation
Talk to serious musicologists like Peter Guralnick, Greil Marcus and Robert Gordon—and, heaven forbid, Scotty Moore, the guitarist who helped Elvis shape his sound—about Presley’s music, performance and persona beyond the enduring clichés.
Girls! Girls! Girls!
Expand the sequence between Elvis and his female film co-stars. It’s an obvious opportunity for a huge dance number with sex appeal to spare.
Rip It Up
Lose the Col. Parker character. Presley’s manager had little to do with his artistry, genius or legacy, except, perhaps, in how he limited it.
Those cheesy plastic pompadours and Technicolor jumpsuits look like a Burger King commercial by Devo. Elvis may have had a flashy fashion sense, but he never looked like a clown.
And if none of that works?
Picture this: Criss Angel as Elvis. It just might work!