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Elvis back in Vegas with Cirque du Soleil

By KJ Matthews, CNN
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A look at 'Viva ELVIS'
  • Cirque du Soleil's latest Las Vegas production is "Viva Elvis"
  • Work features Elvis songs and Cirque's acrobatics at new Aria casino
  • Creative director wants to convey deeper understanding of Elvis as phenomenon

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Cirque Du Soleil successfully tackled the Beatles with its "Love" show, so it seems fitting for it to take on another legendary name in rock 'n' roll: Elvis Presley.

"Viva Elvis," which opens Friday, will be the 10th permanent residency show for Cirque. It's housed at the 2,000-seat theater at the new Aria Resort & Casino inside CityCenter in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The show is a collaboration between Cirque and two companies: CKx Inc., which owns the rights to Presley's name and image, and the MGM Mirage, which oversees CityCenter.

The show, which lasts 90 minutes, runs through Presley's career through his music and, of course, Cirque du Soleil's distinctive acrobatics.

The creative director of "Viva Elvis," Armand Thomas, talked to CNN about the show, its comparisons to "The Beatles Love" and what he wants audiences to feel after walking away. The following is an edited version of the interview.

CNN: How was doing "Viva Elvis" similar to, or different from, "The Beatles Love"?

Armand Thomas: Both of these projects came out of a set of circumstances. "The Beatles Love" show was the love of Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil, and his friendship with George Harrison many years ago, [but] I believe that it is a coincidence that the two shows so closely followed each other on the Strip here.

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"The Beatles Love" show was based on the Beatles' music exclusively. George Martin, the legendary fifth Beatle, and [Martin's son] Giles Martin recreated the soundtrack based on the actual music. At "Viva Elvis," we've taken the music and arranged it, or rearranged if you like, by retaining its familiar iconic sound, yet making it new and giving it a twist. Then we applied stage performances with a live band with live singers. And we use Elvis' voice, extracted from master tapes.

There's a lot of imagery, from films to photographs to home movies to newsreels to sculptures ... all on stage.

So it's very different from "The Beatles Love" in that that show was really that a real mix of what already existed. The "Viva Elvis" show is a lot of created art.

CNN: So what will we see?

Thomas: It's a pretty abstract story. What we're doing is relating it to a field, energy and an atmosphere. It's a sense of his style, his whimsicalness, his energy and his sensuality.

It opens with essentially us paying homage to his phenomenal recording career. In "Viva Elvis," we are using his music as the foundation for an acrobatic event, like when we present a high-end trampoline act.

What we also did was create characters that were based on Elvis' fascination with superheroes in his youth. You know that he was hooked on Captain Marvel, and that led to the cape, the jumpsuits, the high collars, the lightning bolts and a logo for his TCB or "Taking Care of Business." ... We make several references to his younger life and the things he was involved in: his movie career, his romance with Priscilla and his love of women.

We also look at how he spent the last seven years of his life performing to sell-out crowds in arenas around the country and how Las Vegas had become his home base.

We have acrobatics, which are expected from any Cirque show. [But] whenever you see an acrobatic number, it is lyrical. It is part of the storytelling. We don't trot out a juggler just for the sake of having one.

CNN: If you had to sum up "Viva Elvis," what would it be?

Thomas: A party! An euphoric trip to a timeless musical legend.

CNN: And what do you want the audience to walk away feeling once they've seen "Viva Elvis"?

Thomas: I want them to say "So that's who Elvis was?" I think we would really want people to leave the theater understanding why this guy became a phenomenon. He was bigger than life, and we are hoping that our show is gonna be bigger than we had hoped.