Zack O’Malley Greenburg, Forbes Staff
Sammy Davis, Jr. once said that “everything Michael Jackson does on stage is exactly right.” The King of Pop indeed left some big leather loafers to fill, but judging by the crowd’s reaction at MGM’s Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour is doing an admirable job.
Among those in attendance for Saturday night’s performance: Cee Lo Green, as well as Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles. Seated within view of the reporters assembled to chronicle the show, the couple laughed and smiled as acrobats and dancers swirled across the stage–zombies popping out of coffins, contortionists emerging from giant books, even a performer dressed as a giant white glove–all while a live band blasted out the soundtrack beneath Jackson’s soaring vocals.
“We have all done our best to make this a celebration of his essence in his absence,” musical director Greg Phillinganes told me shortly after the show’s debut. “His passion for humanity … his commitment to excellence, his flair for the big show, we’ve tried to incorporate all those factors.”
Immortal is the highest-grossing live show in the country for the second week in a row, bringing in just shy of $2 million per night in Vegas. That’s over half a million dollars more than the next-highest earner, Taylor Swift, according to concert data provider Pollstar.
It’s all the more impressive given that the Jackson show has been parked at the 8,500-seat Mandalay Bay Theatre for much of December; Swift has been playing arenas more than twice that size, as Immortal will soon be doing when resumes its trek across the North America. An international leg is set to follow in late 2012.
A joint venture between the Michael Jackson estate and Cirque du Soleil, Immortal opened in October and is already approaching $100 million in ticket sales. That should come as no surprise, given the extraordinary spectacle that audiences witness with each performance.
The show begins with a spotlight illuminating a mime clad in all white; his shell-toed sneakers and backwards hat make him look more b-boy than sad clown. As he cozies up to an image of Michael Jackson that fills a giant video screen at the back of the stage, the pictures melts away to reveal the band, and a troupe of dancers streams onto the stage.
The mime serves as a guide throughout the performance, starting with Jackson’s early years and the song “Have You Seen My Childhood.” There’s a miniature hot air balloon and a Jackson Five montage complete with dancers dressed as Marlon, Tito, Jermaine, Jackie and Michael–oversized afros included. As the show continues, a replica of the Neverland gates rolls out, followed by performers dressed as Bubbles the Chimp and some of the other animals that once resided in Jackson’s private zoo.
Next comes the “Smooth Criminal” segment. The screens behind the stage turn black-and-white, revealing a video of Jackson outsmarting a series of detectives as they try to track him down. All the while, tommy gun-toting dancers decked out in fedoras and pinstriped suits mimic and elaborate upon Jackson’s moves, culminating in a flurry of pyrotechnics and mock gunfire that leaves only one dancer standing.
Perhaps the most impressive is the scene that comes next. The surviving gangster rips off her white suit to reveal nothing more than a shimmering bikini–and proceeds to ascend a slim tube that extends 30 feet or so into the air. Upon reaching the top she launches into an aerial pole-dance, contorting herself into positions that would seem impossible even on solid ground. At some point, she manages to hold herself perpendicular to the structure, supported by nothing besides her own strength.
Pushing the boundaries of the human body are trademarks of Cirque du Soleil, and that’s one of the many examples in which Immortal lives up to its lofty expectations (There’s also a scene where one acrobat lifts a partner into the air using only a strap hanging from his mouth; in another, a green dancer folds herself into a pretzel-shape and walks on her hands).
There’s a bit of tongue-and-cheek humor, too: at one point, Michael Jackson’s trademark black loafers appear as Mini Cooper-sized characters, each manned by a single dancer.
Though Immortal pays homage to Jackson’s biggest hits–”Thriller,” “Billie Jean” and “Man in the Mirror,” to name a few–it also showcases some of Jackson’s later work, including the environmental anthem “Earth Song” and the oddly prescient “They Don’t Care About Us.” The latter of features scores of stomping robots with dollar signs emblazoned on their metallic chests, an idea dreamed up years before the birth of Occupy Wall Street.
Immortal features quite a few mashups of Jackson’s music, so it’s only fitting that the show ends with a parade of dancers hoisting flags that bear the combined symbols of various nations.
The production’s narrative arc does jump around a bit, as one might expect given the diverse nature of Jackson’s oeuvre. But Immortal’s architects managed to connect everything in a generally coherent manner–quite an achievement, given the staggering array of individual songs and mashups that made the final cut.
At any rate, the show has clearly passed the necessary tests in Vegas. Plans are already in the works to renovate the Mandalay Bay Theatre, which currently houses the Lion King, to accommodate a modified version of Immortal in time for a 2013 opening. If this month’s run is any indication, it should be a bonanza for MGM, Cirque du Soleil and the Jackson estate.
Though Jay-Z and Beyonce ducked out as the performers were taking their final bows on Saturday night, it’s clear that another superstar–Michael Jackson–will be staying in Las Vegas for quite some time.
Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil and the Michael Jackson Estate
Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour by Cirque du Soleil
An electrifying production that unfolds inside the creative mind of Michael Jackson.
A riveting fusion of visuals, dance, music and fantasy that immerses audiences in Michael’s creative world and literally turns his signature moves upside down, Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour unfolds Michael Jackson’s artistry before the eyes of the audience. Aimed at lifelong fans as well as those experiencing Michael’s creative genius for the first time, the show captures the essence, soul and inspiration of the King of Pop, celebrating a legacy that continues to transcend generations.
NOW ON TOUR! Tickets & Info: http://cirk.me/oDTx4T
The Canadian Press – ONLINE EDITION
‘A gift from beyond’: Cirque du Soleil’s Jackson show debuts in Montreal
By: Benjamin Shingler, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL – Michael Jackson had always hoped to do a show with Cirque de Soleil, and on Sunday that dream came true.
The “Immortal World Tour” debuted at the Bell Centre in Montreal, combining acrobatics and dance with the King of Pop’s massive catalogue of hits spanning more than four decades.
From “ABC” to “Thriller,” the high-octane performance did not disappoint.
It was also a tribute to Jackson’s lasting impact on dance and fashion _ from his patented moonwalk to his iconic white glove.
At one point, a pair of giant dancing black dress shoes with white socks graced the stage, and at another, a pack of acrobatic werewolves.
But Michael Jackson and the circus? It’s a perfect fit, according to his brother, Jackie.
“First of all, Michael is a great fan of Cirque (du Soleil). He’s seen all the shows,” Jackie, who arrived with his brothers Tito and Marlon, told reporters just before the show. “And to have Cirque and Michael together, you expect to see something fantastic.”
Jackson’s mother Katherine and his three children were also at the show, making a brief appearance beforehand for a photo-op.
The family made the trip to the premiere from Los Angeles, where the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor is underway.
The show packed 60 hits into about an hour and a half, starting with the Jackson 5 and ending with Jackson’s last studio album.
It did not, however, dare imitate the man himself — no single performer plays the role of Jackson.
“We were very clear on this, and I think the family was too,” said Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil.
Lamarre said he had the blessing of Jackson’s mother to go ahead with the show.
“Many people were interested in doing shows to pay tribute to Michael Jackson,” Lamarre said.
“His mother said Michael has always wanted to do a show with the circus, so if there is a show about Michael, it will be Cirque du Soleil.”
While a wholehearted tribute, the performance didn’t glaze over Jackson’s eccentricities, with Bubbles the chimpanzee making more than one appearance.
It also alluded to a darker side. To the tune of Jackson’s song “Childhood,” where he laments never having had one, dancers swayed above the entry sign to the now infamous Neverland Ranch while a child looked longingly through a window.
In another tune, Jackson is heard pleading “I need my privacy, get away” as clips of the TV news media play in the background.
The $60-million tour has stops in cities across Canada and the United States, beginning with Ottawa on Oct. 7.
The Jackson estate authorized and took part in the project.
Before the show, more than a hundred fans waited in the rain for a glimpse of the Jackson family on the red carpet.
One group of women wore single white gloves and black leather jackets in homage to Jackson.
“I’ve been a fan since I first saw him on TV in 1969 when I was nine,” said Montrealer Shirley Elvis.
“When I first heard this show was coming, I think everyone was in a really dark place and when we heard that they were going to do this it was like another gift from Michael from beyond.”
Chantal Tremblay, Director of Creation for Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour, speaks about the dance and acrobatic elements that are part of the show.
MJ Wins Billboard’s MTV VMAs’ Best Performance of ALL time, MTV VMAs’ Best Pop Performance + Most Iconic VMA Moment Polls
Michael Jackson won both Billboard & MTV Live performance polls
Michael Jackson proved, yet again, just why he’s the King of Pop at the ’95 show.
Not only did he give MTV viewers a 10-minute medley of many of his biggest hits; he did it with on-stage costume changes, Moonwalking, Slash shredding on guitar, dance-fighting, enough crotch-grabbing for the whole of the ’90s, and a speech in the middle to boot.
Such was the awesome power of the memory of this spectacular MJ performance that Billboard.com was inundated with thousands and thousands and thousands of fans voting for this 16 year old moment.
By the way, Michael’s 1988 performance of “Bad” and his brief appearance with ‘N Sync in 2001 were the choices listed on the Billboard poll. However, his 1995 performance is an obvious fan favorite, winning as a ‘write-in’ option.
Fact: Michael Jackson had a video in the top 5 of each of MTV’s 3 decades;
#1 Thriller – 1980’s, #2 Scream – 1990’s, and #5 You Rock My World – 2000’s.
For the first day and a half after the death of the King of Pop, MTV largely abandoned its usual lineup of reality shows in favor of a marathon of Jackson videos, from the classics like “Beat It” to more obscure ones like 2001’s “You Rock My World” (with a Marlon Brando cameo!).
It’s been often said that Jackson brought about two fundamental changes to the world of music video: he desegregated MTV, and the cost and scope of his videos marked a paradigm shift away from the cheap, unambitious schlock MTV had been showing to that point.
There’s more evidence supporting the former theory than the latter, but Jackson inarguably made as big a mark in the world of video as he did in the world of music itself.
Great as his songs were, many of our strongest memories of him come from television: The early Jackson 5 appearances with Diana Ross. The Rankin/Bass-produced Saturday morning cartoon. Jackson moonwalking to “Billie Jean” on the Motown 25th anniversary special on CBS in 1983, which has to rank alongside the “Ed Sullivan Show” debuts of Elvis Presley and The Beatles among the most iconic moments in the crossover between music and TV.
Most of all, we think of the videos: of Michael as a dancing zombie in “Thriller,” Michael as a tough gang kid in “Beat It,” Michael evading the paparazzi in “Billie Jean,” etc. As he grew from boy to man, it was his dancing as much as his singing that made him the King of Pop, and nowhere was his otherworldly footwork on better display than in his videos.
MTV executives have always denied that there was any kind of prohibition against African American artists in the channel’s early days, while Walter Yetnikoff, who was the head of Jackson’s record label at the time, has always insisted there was.
Yetnikoff wrote in his autobiography, “Howling at the Moon,” that “I screamed bloody murder when MTV refused to air his videos. They argued that their format, white rock, excluded Michael’s music. I argued they were racist (jerks) — and I’d trumpet it to the world if they didn’t relent… With added pressure from Quincy Jones, they caved in, and in doing so the MTV color line came crashing down.”
Whether MTV’s resistance to Jackson had to do with color or genre, there was no question that his videos quickly became the channel’s biggest draw.
The launch of the video for “Thriller” — a 13-minute pastiche of ’50s horror movies, directed by John Landis and featuring horror legend Vincent Price in a cameo — was presented with all the pomp and circumstance of a movie premiere. Later Jackson videos, notably “Bad” and “Black or White,” got similar treatment.
Whether there had previously been resistance to artists of color on the channel or not, there’s no question that they became more prevalent after Jackson’s ascension.
As for changing the content of the videos themselves, what Jackson and his collaborators accomplished wasn’t so much a matter of kind as of degree. While the reputation of early ’80s MTV was of low-budget videos that were little more than glorified concert footage, many videos of the pre-“Thriller” period were ambitious and/or expensive, like Duran Duran’s “Rio,” or Blondie’s “Rapture.”
But the “Beat It” video cost a reported $150,000, a huge figure at the time. “Thriller” was an epic. Many of Jackson’s videos in later years would debut at an extreme length, then be cut down for regular airplay.
In addition to Landis, Jackson would work with directors like Martin Scorsese (“Bad”), John Singleton (“Remember the Time,” which featured cameos by Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson), Spike Lee (“They Don’t Care About Us”) and David Fincher (“Who Is It”). (Jackson also got Francis Ford Coppola to direct “Captain EO,” the 3-D movie musical that used to play at Disney’s theme parks.)
And as Jackson put more time, money and artistry into his videos, other singers followed suit.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 1 Star-Ledger Plaza, Newark, N.J. 07102-1200. Please include your full name and hometown.