The Beatles: Love, Mirage Theatre, Las Vegas <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

It was never going to be a local rep production at Watford Palace Theatre. If you are going to do justice to the cultural legacy of The Beatles, you need Cirque Du Soleil, a $150 million production budget, and stunningly inventive remixes of the band's recordings by Sir George Martin and his son Giles. At times, Love's sublime and poetic evocation of the Fab Four's music is overwhelmingly affecting.

It is easily the most important Beatles event since the Anthology documentaries - and much more besides. From the moment the rich a cappella harmonies of "Because" spill out interwoven with bird song, it is clear the Martins have worked wonders.

That The Beatles' digitally restored voices have a definition hitherto unheard outside Abbey Road studios is unmistakable. When the opening chord from "A Hard Day's Night" cedes disoreintatingly to the orchestral crescendo from "A Day In The Life", moreover, it is similarly clear that no one is playing it safe here.

Wisely, Cirque's treatment avoids chronological narrative and literal interpretation of Beatles songs. Instead, they opt for "a timeless, three-dimensional experience", their mostly frenetic, often surrealist production alluding to Beatles events such as the 1964 landing at JFK airport, and their final roof-top concert at Savile Row, London. As The Martins put it at one of the press conferences, "This is not a standard musical a làMamma Mia!"

Lady Madonna, The Eggman, Nowhere Man and Sergeant Pepper are among the elaborately-costumed characters who join trampolinists, acrobats, dancers and stilt-walkers, the latter with trombones for legs. There are also state-of-the-art projections which bring The Fabs to life in silhouette. The accompanying Scouse banter was sourced from between-takes chats that the Martins unearthed during their protracted archaeological dig.

A dizzyingly-choreographed sequence in which four mop-topped rollerbladers make acrobatic use of huge A-shaped ramps might not seem a likely visual foil for "Help!", but it works a treat. "Something" is a truly moving ballet, four aerialists (Fabs-echoing quartet formations are a deliberate leitmotif) soaring skyward with grace.

Director Dominic Champagne's claim that you could attend the show repeatedly and see new things each time is not ill-founded. With agile performers entering from behind, above and below us, and the three-dimensional, 360-degree stage constantly shape-shifting, something magical is always happening in one's peripheral vision.

The hi-tech elements are nicely offset by mechanical props such as cloud-belching umbrellas, and tricycles pedalled by disembodied, yellow wellington-clad feet; Love is a fantastical, dream-like experience, and as visceral a way to re-experience the Beatles' majesty as one could hope for. Only the clowning section in which four feathered fledglings flutter along to "Blackbird" fails to take off.

The intended, very real sense that you are "in" the show, living and breathing fabulously rejigged Beatles sounds is perhaps trippiest midway through. As 6,305 audio speakers treat you to the shock of George Harrison's vocal from "Within You Without You" set against the pounding drums and outlandish tape-effects of "Tomorrow Never Knows", a diaphanous white sheet wafts out from centre stage, expanding to cover the whole audience

As it billows translucent with light, through it, high on a trapeze, we can see Lucy In The Sky. The sheet falls away to reveal diamond points of light in the abyss beneath her, and when Lennon's vocal and that familiar Mellotron riff kick in sounding daisy-fresh, my arms grow goose bumps.

Stepping out into the Mirage hotel's casino after the show, theatre-goers are noticeably quiet. Like me, they are grappling with what they have just experenced. Love is an emotional tour de force that takes your breath away, all you need and then some. Its real coup, though, is the way it makes a once cutting-edge band cutting-edge all over again.

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