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Viva Elvis -- Theater Review

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It's no stretch to say that Elvis Presley doesn't have quite the cultural hold on recent generations that the Beatles do. Then again, the moptops never owned Vegas like he did. And could again.

"Viva Elvis," Cirque du Soleil's seventh (!) current show in Sin City, should be an unfettered hit. With the production's successfully bold musical choices and its sheer size and spectacle, the new Aria Resort & Casino can rest easy that folks from all over will seek an audience with the King.
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Comparisons to Cirque's Beatles show "Love," playing down the Strip at the Mirage, are inevitable. Despite the inherent similarities, they are very different productions. And "Viva Elvis" is superior.

One reason: There's a somber side to "Love" that "Elvis" never allows. It is pure, celebratory joy from sock-hop start to nostalgic, nonchronological finish. It's less "serious" and more playful -- yet equally reverent to its subject.

Also, "Love" is focused so clearly on the music, with its remixed and mashed-up Beatles songs. And with speakers embedded in its seat, sound is its dominant sensory experience; the action onstage is somehow secondary.

Not so with "Elvis."Y es, the King's songs are spun over, under, sideways and down, but this is more a complete show. There is far more dancing than in other Cirque fare -- not that the troupe's acrobatics are given short shrift -- and the grand stage allows for grand use of Mark Fisher's striking, sneaky-complex sets.

The comfy, couchlike seats arranged in spacious aisles down front are another plus.

Musically, the show's a triumph. Musical director Erich von Tourneau makes smart use of live and recorded tracks, which often are spliced together to let singers "duet" with Elvis. Other times his vocals are stacked atop clever new arrangements. And the choice to include lesser-known nuggets among the many standards is inspired. Such hits as "Good Luck Charm" and "Teddy Bear" are bypassed in favor of the lower-profile "Tiger Man," "Got a Lot o' Livin' to Do" and "One Night of Sin."

Still, the bulk of Elvis' classics are among the three dozen full or truncated songs, most rejiggered for the 21st century. "All Shook Up" becomes a gospel celebration, "King Creole" gets the dancehall treatment, flamenco guitar spices up "It's Now or Never," and "Jailhouse Rock" is rocked up. A Bo Diddley beat fuels "Blue Suede Shoes" as a giant prop shoe's laces become uneven parallel bars and its tongue turns into a slide.
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Dozens of dancers and gymnast-acrobats are backed by a rock band with a brass section, and nearly every number is memorable. (A superhero/trampoline piece is entertaining but extraneous and off theme.) A segment about the King's movie career features some fancy six-gun spinning and showy rope tricks. A second drummer beefed up "Burning Love," which played over film clips -- mainly of kissing' and flirting'.
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The inevitable "Viva Las Vegas" was indeed a showstopper, complete with pyrotechnics, bullwhips and showgirls with the requisite plumage in their headgear. It and the career-spanning finale montage of film and photos -- from shy kid to mutton-chopped elder statesman -- brought the crowd to its feet. With the room awash in a shared exuberance, it was a smart decision to leave Elvis' death out of the program. No need to interrupt glee with maudlin sentiment.
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Reminiscent of Cirque''s "Love" premiere in 2006, there was a technical glitch that halted Friday's premiere during the opening number. But it was fixed, and the 90-minute show went on without further interruption. That's about all one could gripe about, though. "Viva Elvis" is a winner that should play successfully for years.

Venue: Elvis Theater, Aria Resort & Casino, Las Vegas (Friday, Feb. 19)
Presented by: Cirque du Soleil in partnership with Elvis Presley Enterprises and CKX
Writer-director: Vincent Paterson
Artistic guides: Guy Laliberte, Gilles Ste-Croix
Director of creation: Armand Thomas
Choreographers: Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo, Mark Swanhart, Catherine Archambault
Director/arranger: Erich van Tourneau
Set designer: Mark Fisher
Costume designer: Stefano Canulli
Lighting designer: Marc Brickman
Image content designer: Ivan Dudynsky
Sound designer: Jonathan Deans
Co-choreographers: Vincent Paterson, Bonnie Story