OH, WHAT FOOL THIS IMMORTAL BE
After a short run in Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour begins its 48-city North American excursion that will last through August, 2012, after which it will return to Las Vegas for an open run in May, 2013. The months between now and its return should give the producers time to figure out what kind of show they want to present: will it be an authentic tribute to Michael Jackson, or the display of sensory overload that overwhelmed audiences at the Events Center arena at Mandalay Bay?
A deep reservoir of affection, if not adoration, exists for the late Michael Jackson, and a quality live tribute show should have a sure-fire hit factor built into it. Jackson’s personal and professional life elevated him into a fascinating figure in American pop culture, and Cirque du Soleil, the preeminent brand name in contemporary live entertainment, seems like an appropriate agent to celebrate the man. Nobody who attended the show could leave the arena complaining that they were shortchanged on production values. The succession of ravishing spectacles – singing, dancing, specialty acts, film projections, sound and light – was stunning. Only one element was overlooked – namely, Michael Jackson.
Near the top of the show, there were a few bits about Jackson’s Neverland estate and a song about “the childhood I never had” that teased the viewer into expecting a probing examination into the entertainer’s intimate and controversial life. But the show, written and directed by Jamie King (who is assisted by 10 choreographers), never pursued its opportunities. Instead, we saw a bikini-clad young woman playing what looked like an electronic cello, a one-legged dancer on a crutch, fireworks, jets of steam, and so much activity throughout the arena that the spectators didn’t know where to focus their attention. The show resembled a three-ring circus, wherein concentrating on one ring means missing out on the pleasures of the other two rings. Still, for sheer spectacle, much of IMMORTAL was breathtaking (such as when performers wearing suits of lights dissolved into illuminated bubbles floating through the air).
Near the end of the show was one interlude that did attempt to connect with the essence of Michael Jackson – his humanity, his innocence, and his perhaps naïve hope for a better world. The interlude melded quotations from Jackson with disturbing images of the violence and poverty that afflict much of the world, especially Africa. There were also affecting scenes, both live and animated, of the young Michael leading the Jackson Five. But such moments of delicacy were rare interludes, upstaged by a tsunami of overpowering imagery, mind-numbing action, and deafening sound that could eventually exhaust the spectator.
As an arena show, IMMORTAL likely will prove a commercial success as it hopscotches across the continent, though it could certainly benefit if it were trimmed by 30 minutes. The producers promise a heavily revised production in 2013 more appropriate to traditional theaters. Let’s hope the rethinking genuinely connects with the soul of Michael Jackson, even at the expense of knock-your-socks-off production numbers.
Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour
now on tour through August 4, 2012
(returns to Las Vegas May 2013)
for cities, tickets, and info, visit http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/michael-jackson-tour/