Elvis and Vegas are virtually synonymous, but Elvis and Cirque seemed like a disparate pairing from the get-go. Maybe it’s the music. Presley’s blues-influenced catalog is a far cry from Cirque’s signature French Canadian sound. I’m a believer now. Witnessing the Aria-housed spectacle on Elvis’ would-be seventy-sixth birthday erased all doubts I had about the (mutually beneficial) arranged marriage.
Group dance choreography is essential to Viva Elvis. Of the eight Cirque shows I’ve caught to date, no other relies so heavily on it. Not that there aren’t impressive acrobatic feats involved. There’s the giant guitar skeleton that two aerial artists play inside of, the “Jailhouse Rock” jungle gym and the trampolining superheroes scene, among others. The majority of the acts are carried by fancy footwork, though. “Blue Suede Shoes” kicks it off, with neo-futuristic sock hoppers coordinating their (largely indigo) footwear in front of a loafer fit for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. A gospel church is the setting of “All Shook Up”. “Bossa Nova Baby” (certainly not one of The King’s best known numbers, but a chance for Cirque to exercise its world music muscles) is staged in a colorful Brazilian cantina, where a florescent Hunter S. Thompson wannabe does chair balancing on the bar. The Sin City anthem alluded to by the show’s title facilitates an opportunity to experiment with a variation on the iconic feather head-dressed showgirl routine. And where would a Vegas Elvis show be without jumpsuits? “Suspicious Minds” soundtracks the one-piece garment segment.
Projections are another key element. Given the show’s namesake is deceased, what better way to infuse the spectacle with his signature charisma than actual stills and film of the legend in his prime? A collage of newspaper clippings provides the backdrop for a servicemen swing (although the Long John/boxer American flag is far superior). Elvis’ movie career is represented by a montage or two of celluloid. And his marriage to Priscilla wouldn’t be nearly as moving without archival footage of the lovers in action.
Speaking of knot-tying, a matrimony-inspired act happens to be one of my favorite moments—hands down. “Love Me/Don’t” features two aerial hoops modeled after the couple’s wedding rings. Two pairs of male/female performers interact inside the over-sized jewelry. The choreography is breathtaking. Whoever is responsible deserves major kudos, as the succession of lifts and suspensions not only flows smoothly from one position to the next, but continues to up the creative ante as the piece progresses.
And if you’re still wondering about the music, it’s a mixture of vocal samples, live band embellishment and diva interpretation. No matter how many times you’ve heard his hits, you’ve never heard ’em quite like this.