Chief Justice Michael Stailey is happy just to dance with you.
A Year in the Life.
"Each generation, as it grows up, finds The Beatles for themselves…and it will go on."—Sir George Martin
Cirque du Soleil's most ambitious show to date, The Beatles' Love, had its gala premiere on June 30, 2006 in a custom built, 6,000 speaker infused, $100 Million theatre at Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. On hand were Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and wife Barbara Bach, Olivia Harrison and son Dhani, Yoko Ono and son Sean Lennon, John's first wife Cynthia Lennon and son Julian, and a full house of VIPs and Beatles fanatics. But the road to opening night was long, arduous, frighteningly expensive, wildly creative, frought with controversy, and nearly impossible to document…and yet director Adrian Wills and his team did their best to do just that. My only complaint is that the 84 minutes they came up with isn't nearly enough.
Sir George Martin is absolutely right. Discovering The Beatles is a right of passage for music fans. I was little more than a year old when The Fab Four called it quits. My parent's weren't big fans and had no Beatles albums in the house. It wasn't until college that I immersed myself in the catalog, thanks to the remastered albums being released on CD. From then on I was hooked. Now, I'm not a rabid fan, but the music is very much a part of my life. When Melissa and I bought our first house, Sunday mornings were regularly a feast of pancakes underscored by WXRT's "Breakfast with the Beatles" with Terri Hemmert. They are still in heavy rotation on my iPod, and I have seen The Beatles' Love twice thus far, just after it opened and again last summer. Granted, I've seen a lot of theatre in my life, but nothing as mind blowing as this…and the show's backstory is even more compelling.
Born out of a friendship between Cirque founder Guy Laliberte and George Harrison, the two sought to fuse the unique strengths of both groups into an experience unlike any other. Unfortunately, with George's passing in 2001, it was up to Laliberte, Apple Records chair Neil Aspinall, the father and son team of Sir George and Giles Martin, and the surviving Beatles family to carry this torch through to completion. All Together Now gives us a mere glimpse into that process. In fact, if feels like an NBC Olympics late night highlights package, showing some of the more challenging obstacles faced, creative differences overcome, technical marvels achieved, and sheer artistry in evolution, interspersed with interviews and clips from the show, in its various stages of development. But unlike Cirque's CBC reality television series for Fire Within, there is obviously so much more left unsaid.
Much of the doc's runtime is focused on the work of Sir George and Giles Martin. With his father's hearing failing, Giles shouldered the responsibility for not merely remixing the tracks needed to bring this show to life, but creating something completely new. While the Beatles hard core fans remain mixed on the soundtrack, people need to understand this was not created for a purely auditory experience. This music is meant to be experienced within that environment, seeing this entire universe of characters we've known for years come to life before our very eyes in ways we've never even imagined. From the Buster Keaton inspired silent comedy of the Nowhere Men and the triumph and tragedy of Sgt. Pepper, to the airborne beauty of Julia and the raw grounded sexuality of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Lady Madonna, these all too familiar songs take on a life all their own, captivating, mesmerizing, and confounding audiences night after night. Words and two-dimensional images can't possibly describe the emotions one experiences in that theatre. Beatles fan or not, you cannot help but be emotionally affected.
Unfortunately, for as compelling an experience as Love is for those seated in the audience, All Together Now leaves us wanting. They touch on the fish-out-of-water story of South African native Michael Moloi who plays the Sugar Plum Fairy, the personally emotional journey of Rodrigue Proteau as Sgt. Pepper, and the traditional theatre vs. Cirque conflicts for Lincoln Hudson as Mr. Piggy. For each of their stories, there are 57 other cast members and countless crew who experienced just as much if not more. It's enough to tease but not satisfy.
Where Wills does spend his time is with Laliberte and writer/director Dominic Champagne, whose work with not only the cast and crew, but with The Beatles family themselves is ripe for high drama reality television. Forget The Hills, I want to see more of Yoko and Dominic knocking heads over the interpretations of John's songs. We also spend time with Paul and Ringo, from trying to wrap their heads around the idea of the show all the way through opening night. While it's fantastic to see them waxing nostalgic on the original music and commenting on the show, these men are merely tangential observers to the experience, and they both acknowledge it. The real meat of this story lies backstage with the people on the frontlines. I wanted to see more of how these mind boggling tableaus set to music came to be. What didn't work and was ultimately left behind? What was the creative process behind the show's more high flying stunt sequences? What went into the conception and design of these intricate sets that journey us from war torn England through the peace and love movement of the late '60s? And just what happens when they break down and the cast has to scramble to keep the show from falling apart at the seams?
Presented in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen, the visual presentation captures both its story and subjects in fine DV clarity. However, it's the 5.1 surround mix, in both DTS and Dolby, that will impress you. This is no mere non-fiction audio track. The music jumps right out and grabs you, again only providing a taste of what theatre goers will experience once they step inside this magical world.
EMI includes four bonus features on this package: "Changing the Music" (22 min) goes even deeper into the work of Giles and Sir George Martin as they craft the 21st Century adaptation of The Beatles, with the utmost reverence to the source material. "Music in the Theatre" (9 min) touches briefly on the design, construction, and breaking in of this state-of-the-art theatre in the round. "Making Love" (10 min) is an encapsulated overview of the show's origins. A trailer for the show itself and a 10-page booklet round out the set.
Don't mistake my hunger for more in depth exploration of The Beatles' Love as a condemnation of the film. Quite the contrary. All Together Now is a beautiful and compelling tale, even more so for those who have already experienced the show. But it's only the outer layer of a much larger Glass Onion.
Please Note: This is another one of those "Best Buy Exclusive" DVDs. The purchase link is up top.
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