Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Spectacle vs Substance

One of the two shows we had tickets for during our visit to Las Vegas was The Beatles' Love at the Mirage. That's what we went to see last night.

My reaction is...mixed.

Technically, it's really well done. The staging is clever, the costumes stunning, and the music is (understandably) fantastic. I loved that the speakers were in the headrest of the seats without being obnoxious about it. What didn't work for me was as much was just how busy the show is. I was fine that, unlike other Cirque shows I've seen, it was mostly interpretive dance rather than a lot of acrobatics, but it's very much focused on the spectacle and cramming as much into the space as it possibly can, so much so that it's impossible to know where to look. It's like one long hallucination. The best moments were those that were allowed to be more intimate, but they were just too few and far between.

I figured out later what my difficulty with it was. It comes down to spectacle versus substance. Too much of the former and not nearly enough of the latter. I'm not a big fan of grandiose or being different for the sake of being different. This had so much happening all at once--multiple aerial acts at the same time, two or three different components on the stage, projections happening behind us--that it ends up diffusing the entire effect. It's an avalanche that buries you rather than allows you to experience it.

Phantom of the Opera is another example of this. I get into arguments with other theater friends all the time because they rate it so highly and I just don't. I do like a lot of the music, but too much of the show feels superfluous and shallow. Give me Les Miserables and almost anything by Sondheim instead, please.

Those have substance. Those have meaning. They know when to pull back from the spectacle to best highlight the singular moments that make the entire show worth it.

It's a lesson that can be learned in a lot of different venues.