Cirque du Soleil
Monday, Oct. 3, 2011 | 7:10 a.m.
MONTREAL, Quebec -- It has been raining in Montreal. The timing for this light but persistent drizzle is inopportune, to say the least. Cirque du Soleil officials were hoping for a sunnier setting to debut its newest and boldest partnership, the arena production “Michael Jackson's The Immortal World Tour.”
But after absorbing Sunday night’s manic red carpet arrivals and the sold-out show itself, it seems not at all strident to say Jackson’s family and most devoted fans would say that those are not raindrops.
They are tears, tears from above. Michael Jackson’s tears.
“He was here,” Marlon Jackson said in a quickly fashioned session with visiting media less than an hour after the freewheeling “Immortal” show closed before 13,000 fans at the Bell Center. “I felt him.”
Marlon was joined by brothers Tito and Jackie Jackson. The three had not yet spoken with their mother, Katherine Jackson, who took in the show from a VIP suite high above the stage. “She probably cried,” Jackie Jackson said, laughing. All the brothers felt that Michael’s spirit of unity comes across in the show. “We are one,” Tito said. “Michael wanted us all to be as one.”
How that was achieved by what was put onstage is in the eye of the observer, of course. Similar to the artist for whom it pays tribute, “Immortal” defies all sense of time. Like Michael, too, it bounds around oblivious to any notion of chronology. Five comic figures begin the show, and it is left to interpretation whether they represent the Jackson 5 or are characters emoting Jackson himself over the years. Midway through the show, those characters perform a medley of “I Want You Back” and “ABC,” dancing and miming the lyrics with a live band thumping behind them.
The stage set returns repeatedly to Neverland’s entrance as a kind of home base. After a somewhat tepid start, with a handful of acrobats walking up a brick wall in the same way you’d see performers in “Ka” work that show’s distinctive stage, the show opens full throttle with explosives blowing back a large drape and dancers performing to a mash of “Billie Jean” and “Smooth Criminal.” Soon, Michael’s voice is painfully asking, “Have you seen my childhood?” as a Neverland-fashioned carnival plays out onstage and a balloon carrying a child hovers over the audience.
All of the favorites are there, in some form. The familiar “Thriller” dance number is resurrected, though the mummified dancers don all-white costumes rather than the dingy attire from the famous video. “Smooth Criminal” becomes a full-scale, Broadway-styled production number, with dancers performing the familiar forward lean move across the stage. “Beat It” and “Bad” are pinned together in an ear-splitting rendition, as dancers inhabit Jackson’s giant black-and-white leather shoes and his trademark spectacled glove. “Human Nature” is conveyed with dancers carrying glowing red hearts into the aisles as the audience sways.
There is enough Cirque to satisfy traditionalists, as aerialists and gymnasts flipping from rings are summoned in the latter stages of the show. Dancers bounce across a circular drum-styled platform that juts out from the main stage.
Characteristic of Jackson’s eccentric lifestyle, a man inhabiting a Bubbles the chimp costume makes repeated appearances. Some of the performances in the talent-laden Cirque cast are simply mind-blowing. One of the dancers spins about on one leg. A female cellist is moved center stage and manages physical and musical beauty. A burst of pyrotechnics closes the production as “Black or White” thunders from the stage.
The grandiose production is a reminder of Jackson’s artistic brilliance and could not come at a better moment for his family and worldwide following. The trial of his handpicked physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, has dominated the headlines leading up to the show. Last week, a recording of his slow, slurred voice, taken just days before his death, was played for the court. Thanks to Cirque, it is refreshing to be reminded that Jackson was not merely a tragic figure, but an inspired and uniquely influential entertainment visionary.
Of course, one of his favorite playgrounds was Las Vegas, where he lived in two residences several years ago. The arena tour stops at Mandalay Bay Events Center in December, and the final stop for Jackson’s onstage biography will be Mandalay Bay Theater for the Cirque residence show beginning in early 2013.
“Las Vegas is in many ways our home,” Cirque CEO Danielle Lamarre said on the red carpet before the show. “Michael loved the city and saw all of the Cirque shows there. It is appropriate we will be there permanently.” Lamarre said the residence show would evoke Neverland “in spirit.”
“This is a rock concert,” Lamarre said. “The resident show will be more intimate. We are looking at what we can use from the touring show in the resident show, and that process will take several months.”
Cirque founder Guy Laliberte added, “We are not yet close to knowing how the (resident) show will be in Las Vegas, but I am thrilled that his story will be told there because he enjoyed the city so much.”
All the Jackson nostalgia led to a question among the three brothers who reunited to take in Sunday’s premiere. Might there be some sort of show featuring a reconstituted Jackson 5 or Jacksons in Vegas?
All three laughed at the suggestion.
“We’re winding into that question,” Marlon Jackson said. “But you never say never.”
Not in Michael Jackson’s world. It might be called Neverland, but “never” is not in the discussion. In this fantasy world that defies age, gravity and conventional thinking, everything is possible.