The Cirque du Soleil’s new one-act show Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour cashes in on a legend
by Richard Burnett
I was reminded with all the hoopla over the involuntary manslaughter trial of Dr. Conrad Murray and the world premiere in Montreal of The Cirque du Soleil’s one-act show Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour, that Michael Jackson’s face was whiter and tighter than my ass.
Call me blasé, call me jaded, call me an insensitve jerk. But let me remind you all that in the recent wall-to-wall coverage of everything Michael Jackson that it was the King of Pop who first crowned himself the King of Pop. Jackson invented his own moniker and then demanded he be referred to as such in every media interview he granted.
...even Janet resorted to using projected images of her and her brother Michael to generate built-in goodwill and applause.
Then when the Jackson family walked the star-studded red carpet at the October 2 world premiere of Immortal at Montreal’s Bell Centre, one family member was notably absent, the only other bonafide star in the family, singer Janet Jackson – who, incidentally, I saw give a lousy phoned-in performance at the Bell Centre this past August. And during that concert even Janet resorted to using projected images of her and her brother Michael to generate built-in goodwill and applause.
But does the (pardon the pun) sycophantic circus that surrounded MJ in life still make great theatre following his death?
Well, as long as the millions keep pouring into the Jackson estate coffers, the answer sadly is a resounding yes. If the deaths of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley have taught us anything, it is that this MJ sideshow will continue for many more decades to come.
As for Immortal – which has just completed runs in Montreal, Ottawa and Hamilton, and opens in London (Oct 18), Toronto (Oct 21), Winnipeg (Oct 26), Saskatoon (Oct 29), Edmonton (Nov 1) and Vancouver (Nov 4) before returning to Montreal (March 20-22 and July 6-7, 2012) and Quebec City (March 24-25) – the critics seem to like it.
Still, even the show's detractors have to concede that as spectacle, "Immortal Tour" is one of a kind.”
“The Cirque du Soleil show that celebrates Michael Jackson is as singular as the performer himself,” Variety swooned. “Part rock concert, part aerial fantasy, part multimedia extravaganza and part surreal performance art, the show, written and directed by Jamie King, manages to capture the essence of Jackson better than seems possible. Early reaction in Montreal indicates die-hard Jackson fans are ecstatic while non-believers remain so throughout, emerging more perplexed than elated. Still, even the show's detractors have to concede that as spectacle, "Immortal Tour" is one of a kind.”
Meanwhile, USA Today won’t play second-fiddle to Variety. “There's a moment in Cirque du Soleil's Immortal show when the stage empties, the lights go down, and Michael Jackson's I'll Be There vocal gets the room to itself,” USA Today reports. “It’s a quiet, emotionally charged scene in a production that’s brimming with razzle-dazzle, and Cirque’s aerial artists return to the stage soon enough. But the message is poignant and clear: Jackson may not be around to perform, but there’s still plenty of showmanship left in the King of Pop.”
Of all the reviews, USA Today got off the best one-liner: “Jackson fits Cirque like a hand in a sequined glove.”
The $60-million Immortal Tour left Montreal in a 40-truck tour caravan — three for costumes alone — just as Epic records announced Jackson’s next posthumous album (also called Immortal) will be released in November. The album of newly discovered outtakes and alternate versions of old hits is actually the soundtrack for the new Cirque du Soleil show, and the 15-track album (a 22-track deluxe version is also available) also features an alternative version of the Jackson 5 hit ABC as well as a series of mashups and remixes.
“Everything [Michael] did in performance was already so big. He made it so magical,” Immortal director Jamie King – who was a dancer on Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous tour – told reporters. “I had the opportunity to really take it to another place, an even bigger spectacle.”
"Michael would knock on the door every night and we’d talk. He was always curious about other people’s lives. I thought he was going to live forever."
Staying behind in Montreal was local soul man Alan Prater, lead singer of Café Soul, the best R’N’B house band in North America who headline Montreal’s Jello Bar every Wednesday night.
Prater toured with Jackson from 1981 to 1985, and he recently told me about those years, “Michael was the kindest person I ever met. After each show, I’d sit in my hotel room and Michael would knock on the door every night and we’d talk. He was always curious about other people’s lives. I thought he was going to live forever.”
With Immortal, it looks like MJ will indeed live forever. But sadly MJ’s legacy is also marked by his change of character, from the shy young man Alan Prater knew so well, to the megalomaniac King of Pop he had become by the time he died in 2009.
Even in death, as in life, Jackson refused to play second fiddle – stealing the limelight from yet another pop icon, Farrah Fawcett, who made the PR mistake of dying the very same day.
But did anyone expect anything less from the immortal one?
Click here for all dates and tickets on The Cirque du Soleil’s current show Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour.