When the Beatles bowed out of live performance for ever, it was a rough and ready, low-key and spontaneous show. The contrast could not have been greater as the band's music was revived on stage in Las Vegas on Friday, with Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr looking on in awe.
Love, staged at a cost of £55m and developed over many years, takes an audience of more than 2,000 people each night on a spectacular magical mystery tour through Beatles history, with the help of a huge troupe of dancers and acrobats. The surreal portrayal of the Fab Four's career, performed by Cirque du Soleil, even includes a recreation of the group's final show in 1969, staged on the rooftop of their company's Savile Row HQ.
After the 90-minute premiere at the Siegfried & Roy Theatre at Vegas's Mirage Hotel, Sir Paul McCartney bounded on stage and yelled: "This is for John and George!" The other surviving Beatle, Ringo Starr, said: "It was emotional, because two of us aren't there ... It really comes home when you're watching this." John Lennon was shot dead in 1980 and George Harrison died of cancer in 2002.
The show features excerpts from 130 songs and unpublished outtakes of material recorded by the band, and features characters from their songs, including the Walrus, Lady Madonna and Sgt Pepper. It takes the audience through key events that shaped the band's world, including the Second World War, the early-60s era of Beatlemania and the band's reclusive years of psychedelic experimentation, which produced songs such as "Strawberry Fields Forever".
The Beatles' producer, Sir George Martin, worked with his son Giles to perfect the soundscape for the production at the theatre, which has been empty since the flamboyant illusionist Roy Horn was attacked by a tiger during a show in 2003.
Sir George joked that the late John Lennon would have been dissatisfied with the production, as always. "If he saw the show, he'd probably say, 'Yeah, but it could be better.' John was never satisfied with anything that he ever did in his life. In his mind, he had a dream world which could not be realised."
Lennon's widow Yoko Ono, who attended the show wearing a large white hat and matching suit, drew loud cheers from fans. She said: "When I was working on this show in the rehearsals, I thought 'John should be here.' He would have enjoyed it so much." Olivia Harrison, George's widow and another guest at the premiere, said: "I hope he [George] would like it."
Some elements have been placed in the show symbolically to refer to real-life events. At one stage hooded figures throw knives at a cross, alluding to threats made by the Ku Klux Klan against the Beatles after Lennon famously proclaimed in 1966 that the band was "more popular than Jesus". Doctor Robert, the figure who inspired a song on Revolver and allegedly gave the band LSD in their tea, appears, teapot in hand.
The show's creator, Dominic Champagne, said: "I tried to get inspired by the lyrics, but also the moments and motion of their careers. We tried to be spiritual and physical without trying to be too didactic. I didn't want to do the live version of The Anthology. We're not here to teach the Beatles story to people." It was Harrison's desire to do more with the Beatles' legacy, and his personal friendship with the Cirque's founder, Guy Laliberté, that prompted the project.
The production is the first major theatrical partnership for Apple Corps, the Beatles company, which has earned a fierce reputation for trying to preserve the integrity of the Beatles' music and legacy. The company recently lost a legal battle with Apple Computer over the electronics company's use of the Apple name.
A John Lennon musical, created with the help of Ono, closed within six weeks of opening on Broadway last year.Reuse content