Las Vegas — WHAT began as a tribute by the four remaining Beatles principals to lost bandmates and spouses ended up as a rare but sweet family night out here Tuesday for Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison.
After unveiling portraits of John Lennon and George Harrison that will go on permanent display at the Mirage Hotel, the foursome and various relatives and friends settled in for the first-anniversary performance of "Love," the Cirque du Soleil production exploring the Fab Four's music that has turned into one of the hottest shows in Vegas.
Shortly before the lights went down, McCartney passed the popcorn container down the row he shared with Starr, Harrison and Ono, who smiled and took a small handful and popped a kernel into her mouth. Along with Starr's wife, actress Barbara Bach, and George and Olivia's son, Dhani, they sat back for a fresh look at the production that had been Harrison's dying wish for one more creative collaboration from the Beatles.
About 90 minutes before that show got underway, the four assembled backstage and shared their initial hesitation to allow their music to be exploited in a Las Vegas show.
"We all had that feeling when it was mentioned," McCartney said, a mandolin in hand, which he plucked periodically.
"It's like it was a great idea: Cirque du Soleil and the Beatles -- but what's the story?" he said. "We did spend a lot of time on that. And the [Cirque] guys were like [affecting a French accent], 'Oh, it's OK.... Don't worry, don't worry.' No, what's the idea? And they finally came up with the genesis of this idea, and we all went, OK. And George was in on that."
Ono in particular said she wasn't certain what Lennon's reaction would have been until she saw the show for a second time this week, noting how it has evolved since its opening, remaining a living, breathing creative enterprise instead of becoming a static museum piece.
"I thought maybe John would have been a little bit nervous about it," said Ono, who referred to McCartney at the news conference as "a magnificent man" after his remarks about Lennon. "But yesterday, I finally felt that, OK, John would have been very happy with it."
"Love" music co-producer Giles Martin, who created the soundtrack with his father, longtime Beatles producer George Martin, said they had been making changes roughly on a quarterly basis since the show opened, "tweaking it, always with the idea of trying to make it better.
"It's like an album," he said. "You're never completely happy with it. Last November, we thought it had sagged a little bit, but now the performers are really confident with it, and they can do things they couldn't do when the show opened, so we're taking advantage of things like that."
And Olivia Harrison said George's focus in encouraging McCartney, Starr and Ono to agree to collaborate on the Cirque project wasn't exclusively about the show itself. Their collective presence for the anniversary event was another expression of why he felt so strongly about the project.
"He wasn't here for the specifics of how it manifested," she said. "But he knew it was going to be good, he knew it was going to be fun, he knew it was going to bring everybody together. And that's why he wanted to do it.... We've all had fun; we've all had the occasion we wouldn't have had to spend time together."
Starr called his job of unveiling Harrison's portrait "an honor, but not a pleasure," explaining, "I'd much rather the man was standing here with me."
McCartney and Starr both expressed their delight in the newly remixed and remastered recordings that George and Giles Martin created for the "Love" soundtrack. But they indicated it was unlikely a similar sonic upgrade would be extended to the whole Beatles catalog when it is ultimately put online, as McCartney and Starr's solo recordings have been recently.
"We've been looking at the idea ... of doing something extra with the music," McCartney said. "This seemed to be the only excuse that was valid to do it. We resisted it, remixing it for anything else. So this may be it."
He also touched on the musical convergence of the four Beatles camps, with the recent release of his own new album, "Memory Almost Full," and of two new Ono collections, plus the John Lennon tribute album "Instant Karma: The Campaign to Save Darfur," for which Ono allowed Amnesty International the use of any of Lennon's solo songs. There is also the reissue of the out-of-print Traveling Wilburys albums that Olivia Harrison supervised and Starr's forthcoming solo compilation, "Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr," coming in August in conjunction with the entrance of his solo recordings into the digital domain.
Strumming his mandolin, McCartney warbled a quick chorus: "We've all got records out ... we've all got records out."