‘Viva Elvis’ is high-energy spectacle from Cirque du Soleil

‘Viva Elvis’ at the Aria Hotel & Casino — Photo courtesy of Julie Aucoin / Cirque du Soleil

LAS VEGAS — After the success of Love, an acrobatic extravaganza set to the tune of the Beatles songbook, the creative minds behind Cirque du Soleil turned their attention to the man who reinvented the Las Vegas entertainment scene: Elvis Presley.

The resulting show, titled Viva Elvis, is a high-energy spectacle that utilizes dance sequences and powerfully-sung songs as much as it does acrobatic thrills. This is the new Cirque du Soleil, an amalgam of concert, circus and theater. Count me among the converts.

Of the many offerings from Cirque du Soleil throughout the years, Viva Elvis comes the closest to being like a rock concert. And, in many ways, the change in personality should be a welcome one. Merely setting the usual clown acts and death-defying thrills to an iconic singer’s catalog shouldn’t be enough, especially when the top asking price is $175. There needs to be some personification, some vision that spills out onto the stage, something worth the audience’s time and money.

Viva Elvis, playing in residency at the Aria Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, proves to be a safe bet for any tourists in town looking for an enjoyable, high-energy night at the theater.

It all starts with a bang. An enormous curtain drops from the custom-made stage, and the amped-up songs begin to blare.

“Blue Suede Shoes,” which is actually not a Presley original, opens the show and gets things started on a fast pace. Hosts of dancers and acrobats flip their way across the stage, all jiving to the pumping beats while a 70-by-22-foot jukebox takes center stage. The scene has a 1950s television feel to it, as if the audience members were invited to watch a taping of The Ed Sullivan Show.

From the stellar opening onward, Viva Elvis continues without taking too many breaths. This is Las Vegas, so the show comes in at exactly 90 minutes with no intermission. The crazed pacing is evident by the deep gulps of air taken by the talented cast after every single number. They’re a hard-working, artistically-inclined bunch.

All of the hits are present, from “All Shook Up” to “Return to Sender” to “Burning Love” to “Jailhouse Rock.” Many of the scenes are paired with amazing feats of strength and artistic ebullience.

One sequence involves two performers, one representing Elvis and the other representing the brother he lost at a young age, dangling from a set of bars shaped like a guitar. Coupled with the vocals of “One Night with You,” the number proves to be over-the-top in the sentimentality department, but still effectively moving (pun intended).

A highlight of the night is “Got a Lot of Livin’ To Do,” which features a crew of trampoline jumpers who literally scale the heights of the voluminous stage. This is one of the rare numbers in Viva Elvis where the on-stage theatrics overtake the power of Presley’s voice.

The singers who either offer their own renditions of the classic songs or play duets with Elvis are all talented vocalists. At the performance I attended, former American Idol contestant Carly Smithson appeared on stage, belting out many of the memorable songs.

Cirque du Soleil purists may be disappointed by the general lack of clowning around and acrobatic thrills. This isn’t O or Ovo or Zarkana. This is theatrical Cirque du Soleil, fitting more in line with Love and Zumanity. The songs and dance numbers matter as much as the men and women flipping through the sky.

Much credit should be bestowed on Vincent Paterson, the writer and director, and Erich van Tourneau, the musical director and arranger, plus the several choreographers who worked on the show. They have created a living, breathing tribute to a man who was larger than life.

Viva Elvis is probably the best tribute to the King that could appear on the Las Vegas Strip. Impersonations can only take the audience so far. There is simply no recreating the actual experience of watching Presley in all of his sequined glory and how he held the crowd in his hand.

Smartly, Cirque du Soleil takes an alternate take on the city’s evident adulation of the man — a tributary on the tribute, if you will. The Montreal-based circus company finds the artistic influence behind Presley’s performance and spins together a wholly satisfying night at the theater. This is more “inspired by a true story,” rather than “based on a true story.”

By the time “Viva Las Vegas,” “Suspicious Minds” and “Hound Dog” come to life on stage, like flowers blossoming in the sun, it’s difficult to stay seated and not join the dancing on stage. It’s almost as if a resurrection has occured.

Apparently Elvis has not left the building, after all.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • Viva Elvis has closed, replaced by Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana

  • Running time: 90 minutes

  • Rating: ★★★★


Revised: January 2015

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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