While gaping at Cirque du Soleil performers artfully defying gravity and the bounds of human flexibility, I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening in the darkened audience rows behind me. That’s where Paul McCartney and his cohorts—his fiancee Nancy Shevell; Yoko Ono and her son Sean Lennon; Olivia Harrison and her son Dhani; and George and Giles Martin—were viewing the show. They looked like royalty, sitting together. But it was McCartney whom I watched watch the fifth anniversary performance of The Beatles Love.
How did it feel, I wondered, to see your Beatles days simultaneously condensed and expanded into a 90-minute performance that created something entirely new? Would the feeling of bursting pride or jaded privilege or tear-filled nostalgia show visibly on your face from the other side of the room?
I caught glimpses of McCartney only when the stage happened to be bright enough to reveal audience facial features, and even then I had to locate him by first finding Ono’s white top hat and then panning to the right. But several times, the lights aligned and I saw the former Beatle. And … he looked like anybody else watching the show. For a while, he held his hand on his chin. Once or twice, he seemed to be pointing things out to his fiancee. And at the very end, when the show concluded with a sing-along, as it always does, he sang along. There was no way to tell anything conclusive, which was little surprise. And I soon turned my attention back to the show, which was, it turned out, more interesting than the audience.
But I still had a question to answer. A rare question that was relevant to the rest of us during an anniversary gala in which only the most famous and connected of Beatles and Cirque fans could join. There was the red carpet, which held the teeming masses of fans far away from the teeming masses of journalists, who were in turn distanced from the red-carpet-interview-denying Beatle. There was the limited-ticket anniversary performance. And, finally, there was the after-party so exclusive that even I was excluded. No answers there.
Finally, I found an official McCartney quote from Cirque du Soleil’s public relations department, which, surprisingly, answered the question none of us got to ask: “For me what is really strange about this is remembering writing these things, which is so little—little guitar, little piano, a little bit of paper and pencil on the back of an envelope, Sgt. Pepper or something. It is such a little process and now look what happened to it. It’s incredible.”
A satisfying response. And in the end, from what I could tell from the rest of the audience, we all agree. The Beatles Love has become a work of art in its own right, almost independent from its inspiration. Beyond all the hubbub of a visiting legend, there’s still this incredible show, which has already performed for a slightly less-than-exclusive 4.3 million audience members. And for those who seek inclusivity, there’s even a Summer of Cirque promotion, during which you can get a pair of Love tickets for $100.