Adaptations from one medium to another seldom work. Think back over the past fifty years of books to Broadway to the cinema and most of us can rattle off the ones that did work: The Sound of Music, South Pacific, West Side Story, Grease, Dreamgirls, Mama Mia. This week we experienced two that are worth noting.
The Beatles Love is a Cirque du Soleil offering, permanently housed at The Mirage in Las Vegas. Having seen seven of the Cirque shows, we are Cirque aficionados; completely in awe of their consistent high standards of incredible athleticism, their musical originality, and their otherworldly costuming. I couldn’t imagine how a catalogue of totally unrelated songs could be successfully incorporated into a workable story line, but Mama Mia was so clever and joyful, I was at least hopeful. Sadly, the totality of this show did not measure up, although the costuming was imaginative and the theater itself is a marvel of technology – talk about surround sound – the speakers are in the seats!
Overall, the incredible imaginings of Cirque founder Guy Laiberte and his legions of technical and artistic geniuses are lost or wasted in this attempt to string together the Beatles catalogue in some magical way. It just doesn’t work, Magical Mystery Tour be damned. My only curiosity at the end was…1) who gets the royalties and 2) have Ringo and Paul seen the show?
Our second experience this week was a rip-roaring smash-up of electric eighties hits wound tightly together in Rock of Ages, The Movie. OMG, this show takes toe-tapping rock and roll to the pinnacle of perfection. It’s filled with amazing musical talent from every single cast member. They deliver tight harmonies that invite you to explore your own inner backup singer; accompanied by The Best R&R band you’ve heard in ages. As we used to say: “they were all cook’in with gas!”
Typical story line: small-town stary-eyed kids; jaded rocker with hangers-on; silly city officials suppressing their envy; and a happy ending.
Tom Cruise, at forty-nine, shows us he really really really does have acting chops (it’s hard to be sleazy and adorable at the same time) and – surprise – The Boy Can Sing! He delivers exactly the right twinge of over-the-top debauchery in his sly portrayal of booze-addled rock star, Stacee Jaxx. I’d give him the Oscar now.
Russell Brand is actually a likeable version of himself, sans the indigestion and Alex Baldwin is typical Alex Baldwin, deliciously smarmy as the club owner. They deliver a cute plot twist that I won’t spoil for you. Paul Giamatti is spot on as the dastardly agent. I had to look twice to recognize Catherine Zeta Jones in Channel and pearls, playing the overzealous mayor’s wife, but of course, she’s always worth the second glance. Bryan Cranston is pitch perfect as the clueless mayor. Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, the talented innocents, deliver the best laugh lines: She, confessing with remorse: “I’m working in a strip club.” He, with wincing embarrassment: “I’m in a boy band.” She with relief: “You win.”
Everything about Rock of Ages is just over the top enough to dull the sharp edges that would otherwise make the seedy reality of eighties excesses way too gross. Can we say that there were many tongues in use? The film tales the typically saccharin and harmless plot of a high school play and lovingly smothers it in magenta glitter and gold sequins which we willinglyallow to camouflage the more uncomfortable aspects of that time period. It’s not meant to be a teachable moment. It’s a feel good escape from today’s weary troubles – the 2012 answer to Busby Berkeley, albeit on steroids.
We all left the theater smiling, laughing, humming all the tunes (which were more our kids era than ours) and vowing to download the sound track for our i-pods and planning a return to the big screen to see it all again. I”m voting for Imax next time. Do yourself a favor: Go See It! Then let us know what you think.