Michael Jackson’s life and work were epic and, yes, at times bizarre. Indeed, that’s also how to describe the latest Cirque du Soleil show, Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour, a massive arena tribute to the King of Pop that opened in Cirque’s hometown of Montreal in October and is crisscrossing the U.S. through August 2012. It’s Cirque’s biggest tour ever. Such massiveness is fitting: Only the biggest of spectacles would be appropriate for one of the world’s biggest stars.
Using elements of Cirque’s now-signature style, the show explores Jackson’s huge music catalog through both large and small dance numbers and acrobatic acts all set to a mish-mash of songs, videos, and voice-overs from the singer. In two quick hours, the dance-heavy show presents dozens of songs in standard arrangements, remixes, and mash-ups, largely backed by a live band on stage.
There’s no particular through-line narrative, but a mime-like dancer decked out in all white (presumably, intended as something of a stand-in for Jackson) appears during certain numbers to loosely string everything together. But mostly, the show jumps all over the place. A tribe of dancers shakes it to an urban-styled ”Working Day and Night.” Then a puppet floats around the arena in a hot-air balloon to Jackson’s alternately sweet and creepy Free Willy 2 theme ”Childhood.” Then we’re treated to a video-screen rainstorm during ”You Are Not Alone.”
The show’s acts run the gamut: Early on, five Afro-headed guys festively dance to ”I Want You Back” in front of video of the Jackson Five; later, a pair of skilled gymnasts spectacularly work their way through ”I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” on a floor-to-ceiling pole; and the curtain call is ”Man in the Mirror,” as the different groups of performers appear on stage before a light shines on a bedazzled glove in the darkness. With its big theatrics and decades-long span of music, The Immortal imagines a Jackson concert without the King of Pop himself. (Writer and director Jamie King had worked on concert tours for Madonna and Britney Spears.)
A few numbers particularly stand out, including ”Billie Jean,” featuring dancers in glow-in-the-dark suits; ”Thriller,” with corpse-costumed dancers nodding to the iconic music video’s choreography; and ”They Don’t Care About Us,” in which a brigade of trooper-esque dancers stomping around the stage. This being a Cirque show, there’s also a good deal of quirkiness: Dancer Terrance Harrison is costumed as Jackson’s beloved chimp, Bubbles, for several numbers, while one of the most show-stopping performers (and audience favorites) is a one-legged dancer named Jean Sok.
The Immortal has a particular focus on fantasy and whimsy, which is simultaneously unsettling and appropriate for a Jackson show. Though there’s a trippy quality to Cirque’s production, for the most part it all works. Even the most casual of Jackson followers will be entertained, and Jackson acolytes will revel in every glittering, peculiar moment. B
(Tickets and tour info: cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/michael-jackson-tour or 800-745-3000)