What Makes Good Theatre Good?
This past Friday, my friend Ken and I drove almost 300 miles to attend the premiere of “Viva Elvis” which is Cirque du Soleil’s newest show in Las Vegas. It was a star-studded event, with Hollywood notables such as Chris Noth, Gene Simons, and Chris Angel posing on the blue carpet. That’s right, the red carpet was blue, a tribute to Elvis’ hit song “Blue Suede Shoes”.
Did I mention that my friend Ken hates Vegas? He insisted on leaving the next day after the premiere, which I agreed to reluctantly. Well, he ended up having such a good time, that Ken broke his “24 hour rule” and we stayed two nights in Sin City-a first for him! As a native Los Angelino, I was unimpressed by the stars, but wanted to support my friends in the cast. As some of you know, I was part of the development process for six months before my character was cut two weeks before the show previewed. I was proud of the performers work, and astonished at how much talent, energy, and good will goes into each and every show.
The show is very celebratory and high energy, sporting a sort of Disney feel. I think this was on purpose, in order to appeal to audiences of all ages. It is a hybrid of singing, dancing, and acrobats, sort of a tribute to Elvis’ music and work in the film industry. But I could not help but think that was something was missing. As Randy Lewis from the LA Times said “Cirque du Soleil clearly loves Elvis tender, but in the end "Viva Elvis" never lets him step off the mystery train.” My friend Ken put it very well when he said “the choreography could have been for any song-there was nothing that was specifically Elvis”.
Although the character of Colonel Parker, who was Elvis’ manager for many years, narrates the show via three monologues about Elvis’ life-the dialogue is very “Wikipedia”, meaning factual but devoid of emotion or opinion. Unfortunately, this result is a lack of connection on the audiences’ part to the piece as a whole. With Viva Elvis, Cirque du Soleil has attempted a traditional Strip spectacular — and in doing so, have sacrificed warming the hearts of the audience or telling Elvis’ personal story.
David McKee from Las Vegas CityLife says “About the best that can be said for this patronizing “tribute” is it’ll make you want to watch some Presley movies. Audiences should stamp Viva Elvis: “Return to sender.” Ouch-that is harsh-I would not go that far. But it does bring up the question “what makes theatre good?” For me, it is an emotional connection to the show. But does that guarantee a hit show? I guess if we knew the answer to that, we would all be millionaires! Viva Las Vegas! Viva Elvis!
Written by Che’Rae Adams for NOHOARTDISTRICT.COM Feb 2010
by Che'Rae Adams
Producing Artistic Director of the LAWC