There’s nothing like an exceptional behind-the-scenes experience to amplify how special Las Vegas can be. Drake has a residency at XS Nightclub. Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars have their own shows at Park Theater. Score a ticket to one of these events this year and you’ll be watching one of the biggest stars in the world in an exclusive live performance at an extravagant venue. The intimacy and quality of the experience are only-in-Vegas elements.
The approach is similar, but the show is very different over at the Mirage. For more than 12 years, Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles Love has been pushing its audience closer and closer not necessarily to the artists but to their music. The Fab Four’s familiar catalog has always been the foundation of the show, but the Grammy-winning Love soundtrack is a different way to experience The Beatles.
It’s been well-documented how legendary producer George Martin and his son Giles layered pieces from 120-plus original Beatles recordings to create the music for Love. For example, the version of “Drive My Car” that appears in the first third of the show contains a saxophone track from “Savoy Truffle” from the Beatles’ 1968 “White Album” and a guitar solo borrowed from “Taxman” off 1966’s Revolver. That unconventional approach results in a cacophonous, exhilarating soundtrack to match the show’s fast-paced performance and visual elements, and the stellar audio system in the 2,013-seat theater-in-the-round—there are 6,400 speakers, including three in each seat—is always being tweaked and bolstered to maintain the venue as the best possible environment to consume this music.
If you’re a Beatles enthusiast, you already know all of this, because you’ve experienced Love, probably more than once. It’s one of Cirque’s most popular shows and has been since debuting in June 2006. My recent visit to Love offered a rare perspective, as I spent the hours before and during the show with the audio team: sitting in the playback room beneath the theater running contingency tests; getting a glimpse of the Abbey Road replica recording studio and the storage area where all the expensive mixing computers reside; examining an entire section of seat speakers while engineers blast Queen songs during the final pre-show audio check; and hanging at the desk where acrobats and dancers get mic’d up with a wireless rig right before they go onstage.
I’ve never been a Beatles enthusiast and therefore didn’t deserve to get this close to this music, but one part of this unforgettable experience really resonated with me. The Love version of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is not the rollicking 1968 album version; it’s a mix from Harrison’s initial demo, recorded with just his voice and acoustic guitar in a closet in his home. The Martins went back to The Beatles’ original four-track tapes to create their Love mixes, and in the case of this song, added only a string arrangement to the delicate recording. Those haunting strings represent the only piece of music in the show not created by The Beatles.
I listened to “While My Guitar” in the playback room while watching the Love performance onscreen, and an audio engineer isolated each track during the song. Just strings, just guitar, just Harrison’s wistful voice. It was magical, like he was in the room with us. He’s my favorite Beatle, and this is one of my favorite Beatles songs, but it wasn’t about that. It was all about proximity. At Love, there’s only one layer of production between the original Beatles recordings, those four track tapes and your ears. But only in Vegas.