Cirque du Soleil succeeds in creating a thrilling, larger-than-life show about musical legend Elvis Presley.

A scene from Viva ELVIS
(© Julie Aucoin)
A scene from Viva ELVIS
(© Julie Aucoin)

Following the success of LOVE, Cirque du Soleil has returned to the rock music canon with
Viva ELVIS, now playing at ARIA Resort & Casino at CityCenter. The show succeeds in the goal of painting a unique portrait of a larger-than-life legend in the larger-than-life style that Cirque is known for. Notably, the Cirque team — led by artistic directors Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix, writer and director Vincent Paterson, and creation director Armand Thomas — deserves a lot of credit for taking some risks, in particular putting more emphasis on dance than ever before.

The show is definitely at its best when it’s fusing the dazzling acrobatics that Cirque is known for and the elements that made Elvis such a powerful performer: his music and his showmanship. By placing the live band front and center — another departure for Cirque shows — Viva ELVIS also adds an extra layer of energy to a show that’s already firing on all cylinders.

An early highlight of this show is the spectacular “Got a Lot of Living to Do,” a perfect example of Cirque’s collaboration at its finest. Set designer Mark Fisher concocts a piece intended to look like one of Elvis’ favorite amusement park rides. And costume designer Stefano Canulli adds to the spectacle by outfitting the acrobats as superheroes, a nod to Elvis’ love of comic books. The high-flying, wall-climbing trampoline act invokes a seldom-discussed side of Elvis, the innocent, child-like dreamer.

Following a trip through the “army years” — complete with a sweet aerial ballet set to “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and a western medley with some impressive lasso work — the show really takes off with a tribute to Elvis’ movie work. In particular, “Bossa Nova Baby,” in which a man climbs up a tower of chairs while swivel-hipped dancers undulate, all as footage of Elvis’ classic dance moves are projected onto the giant LED screen, is the perfect marriage of what Viva ELVIS is trying to accomplish. But the show’s signature piece is “Jailhouse Rock,” which uses a set inspired by the movie — although it’s bigger, busier, and with jailbirds walking upside down. This number has to be seen to be believed.

A sensual, acrobatic pole performance set to “It’s Now or Never,” another standout of the show, leads into production numbers interpreting Elvis’ marriage to Priscilla Presley. Viva ELVIS then brings it home with the rocking “Viva Las Vegas” number, and another highlight, “Suspicious Minds,” which culminates in an armada of jumpsuit-wearing Elvises joining the acrobatic dancers on stage. And for a fitting grand finale, “Hound Dog” — the song that made Elvis a star — closes out the show.

True, die-hard Elvis purists may bristle at some of the liberties taken with the songs; the suggestive “One Night,” for example, is re-envisioned as a slow ballad depicting Elvis and stillborn twin brother Jesse Garon as they perform acrobatics on a giant-sized guitar. But the fact is, Viva ELVIS is not meant to be a biography or a chronologically accurate musical timeline. And thanks to Cirque du Soleil, it appears as though Elvis has once again entered the building.