Viva Elvis! The King returned to Las Vegas in February 2010. Viva Elvis!, the Cirque du Soleil Elvis-themed show began shake-down performances December 18, 2009, at the new Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas’s City Center. The preview shows, designed to expose technical and artistic problems, ended February 18. Viva Elvis! opened officially on Sunday, February 21, 2010. The 90-minute show then ran twice daily at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Elvis and Las Vegas—seems like a natural pairing, doesn’t it? After all, Presley’s show was the top draw in Vegas from 1969-1976. But there were no guarantees for the King this time around. When he first appeared there in 1956, the Vegas crowd wasn’t ready for his act, and he bombed. That could happen again if Viva Elvis failed to meet the entertainment expectations of the city’s current Cirque du Soleil clientele.
Cirque du Soleil developed Viva Elvis! in partnership with Elvis Presley Enterprises. Cirque du Soleil (“Circus of the Sun” in English) is a Canadian entertainment company founded by a couple of street performers in 1984. It quickly grew into a large international enterprise with productions playing in 271 cities across the globe. Cirque du Soleil presents itself as a “contemporary circus,” combining continuous live music with non-animal circus acts.
In Las Vegas alone, six permanent Cirque du Soleil shows are seen by over 9,000 people a night. That’s 5% of the city’s visitors. To survive, then, Viva Elvis had to compete for its audience with the other Cirque du Soleil productions in town. It’s main competition is Love, the popular Beatles-themed show at the Mirage.
Before its opening, the official Viva Elvis! web site described the show as follows:
“Viva Elvis by Cirque du Soleil, a harmonious fusion of dance, acrobatics and live music, is a tribute to the life and music of Elvis Presley. Nostalgia, modernity and raw emotion provide the backdrop for his immortal voice and the exhilaration and beauty of his music. Created in the image of The King of Rock ’n’ Roll—powerful, sexy, whimsical, truly unique and larger than life—the show highlights an American icon who transformed popular music and whose image embodies the freedom, excitement and turbulence of his era.”
Hey, sounds great, huh? But let’s remember that the web site was designed to sell tickets, and expensive ones at that. Tickets in the specially designed 2,000-seat Aria theater, run $175, $150, $125, and $99. And that doesn’t include a 10% live entertainment tax and a $7.50 per ticket service fee!
Professional reviewers withheld judgment until the official opening night, but some amateurs who attended preview performances posted their reviews on Yelp, the online review site. Those who posted reviews rated the show on a one to five star basis, and then added their comments. Their opinions of Viva Elvis were mixed, to say the least. Of the 19 who posted reviews during the preview period, 8 gave it 2 or less stars, while 8 others gave it 4 or more stars. Below are some of the comments posted.
“This is a synergetic explosion of dance, expression, emotion, Rock ’n’ Roll and acrobats. The dancing was … well, to say it was incredible would be an understatement. If you watch the dance numbers you will see world class acrobatic numbers mixed in. As with most Cirque shows there was so much going on that you’d have to see the show more than once to catch everything.” — Suzie, Las Vegas (4 stars)
“There is only one way to describe this show and that is HORRIBLE!! If you have never seen a Cirque du Soleil show, then please don’t start with this one. Unless you like throwing $200 in the toilet, stay far from this miserable show. However, there was one scene that was amazing so I must give credit to that part of the show. There is a superhero trampoline performance that was incredible. After that, it was back to the high school musical bore fest. I wish I could get my money back and two hours of my life.” — Brian, Sugar Land, Texas (1 star)
“I expected an acrobatic type show set to Elvis music, but it was more of a story of his life with lots of dancing, and just a little of the acrobatic stuff I expected. If you’re a huge Elvis fan (which I am not) you probably would love this show. This was more like an American Bandstand show … cute show, but not worth paying Las Vegas ticket prices for.” — Tricia, Las Vegas (3 stars)
“OMGoodness, how disappointing. I’m an Elvis fan and was very excited to see this show. Most of the show is dancing, which wasn’t exciting, it was just ok. The theater was pretty empty. There is no real Elvis character, just his manager who narrated some of the show. I won’t go back and I won’t recommend this show.” — Jen, Las Vegas (1 star)
“The music was fantastic. I love the way the women blended with Elvis’ voice. Most of the audience rose at the end for a standing ovation, including me, and I’m not a standing ovation kind of person. I have seen all the Cirque shows in Las Vegas and most of them multiple times. This is a unique addition to their lineup. I will be back to see it again in a few months.” — Norm, Las Vegas (5 stars)
“If I could give a zero star for this review, I would! Viva Elvis was such a huge disappointment. If Elvis were still alive and watched the show, I think he might prefer to be dead so he wouldn’t have to see how horrible this show is and how he was being represented.” — Michelle, West Hollywood (1 star)
“This show is superb. Cirque with a touch of the old style Vegas showgirl review. The sets are monstrous. The songs played throughout the performance provide a tribute to Elvis and are lavishly choreographed. In the performance, the performer playing Col. Tom Parker says, “Elvis would have loved this”—yes he would have. If you like the Beatles Love at the Mirage you will really like this show. I enjoyed the Elvis tribute much more than the stylistic interpretations of the Beatles’ music. Viva Elvis has a live band that just rocks all night long. Gymnastics, cowboys and dancers all rolled into one show. An excellent new addition to the Vegas Cirque productions. I am positive that this show will be a gigantic and long lasting hit.” — Robert, Barstow, California (5 stars)
“Elvis is rolling under his grave over this abomination. As a preface, I love Elvis and love Cirque du Soleil shows. As for Viva Elvis, God only knows what they were thinking. It is actually painful to watch, and it was noticeable that many in our audience left before the end of the show. One would need to be 75 years old and a peer of Elvis for any chance of this being entertaining. So sad, but this is the biggest loser I can remember. Save your time on this one and buy one of his albums if you want any fond memories.” — Roxy, Los Angeles (1 star)
Of course, the Las Vegas entertainment press soon began publishing their reviews of Viva Elvis. It will be their judgment that determines whether or not Vegas visitors pay the high ticket prices to see the Elvis Cirque du Soleil show. However, I was more troubled by the negative reviews on Yelp than I was encouraged by the positive ones. With the production focusing on Elvis’s often-told life story and downplaying the visual action that Cirque patrons have come to expect, Elvis Presley Enterprises may have lost a golden opportunity to make Elvis relevant to 21st century audiences. — Alan Hanson (February 2010)