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October 31, 2014

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Cirque du Soleil’s new ‘Michael Jackson One’ at Mandalay Bay: Q+A with director Jamie King

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Daniel Sladek/DCES

Marc Anthony and Jamie King.

Michael Jackson One

Michael Jackson One

Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour

Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. The world premiere of Immortal was in Montreal, the location of Cirque headquarters, on Oct. 2, 2011. Launch slideshow »
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Director Jamie King and John Branca, executor of The Estate of Michael Jackson.

It’s about three months until the first preview of “Michael Jackson One” at Mandalay Bay, and Cirque du Soleil has already sold $500,000 in tickets the first few hours of the spectacle going on sale over the weekend exclusively to insider Michael Jackson and MGM Resorts club members. General tickets go on sale March 7.

“It’s going to be a blockbuster. That’s a staggering first-day sale,” I was told. In fact, it will be another 37 days -- June 29 -- until the monstrous production has its world premiere in the converted Mandalay Bay theater formerly home to Disney’s “The Lion King.”

Meantime, the touring “Immortal” show that also debuted at Mandalay Bay continues its global journey breaking records and winning awards, with box office sellouts in Europe as it heads to South America and Asia and plans for repeat cities in the U.S., keeping it on the road until at least the end of 2014.

The Jackson juggernaut continues -- and now the second show. The “One” cast moved into their new Mandalay Bay theater last Monday and showcased a hint of the ambitious project when the name “One” was revealed last week.

Director Jamie King says that it’s one of the longest pre-production schedules in Cirque’s history, if not the longest. The casting and Montreal training -- particularly of acrobatics never seen before in any production -- began in October.

“We are literally just in technical rehearsals now. I just spent the last four months living in Montreal in production rehearsals. Now we are in tech rehearsals here for the next few weeks, and then we go into all production rehearsals here. It’s a long run before the premiere,” Jamie told me. “Starting in March, I am here every day. It needs to be a long set of work. It’s ambitious, but for a great show, you need to have that much work put into it.”

Additionally, I’ve learned that Cirque founder Guy Laliberte will be here in March and April adding his masterful input. Officially, we’re told: “ ‘One’ will be a state-of-the-art visual and audio experience creating a theatrical evocation of Michael’s creative genius. Guided and inspired by his music, four misfits set out on a transformative adventure. By journey’s end, they will personify Michael’s agility, courage, playfulness and love.

“Michael believed that all people are unique and equal regardless of race or culture. His message was one of unity, harmony and hope for a better world. At once evocative and enigmatic, the name ‘Michael Jackson One’ also presents a paradox: Michael was a multifaceted artist who strove to fuse together various musical styles and art forms. It is a fitting title for a unifying journey into the world of The King of Pop, the genius, the visionary, the One.”

Here is my conversation with Jamie:

Robin Leach: When you say interactive, do you mean the experience is around you, in front of you and above you?

Jamie King: Yes. I am not going to say it is unlike any theater we have seen before, but certainly what we are doing, our intention is to immerse the audience in the energy of our show, which is Michael’s energy and spirit. We want to make sure that they see and feel our costumes, see and feel the energy of our performers and acrobats just as you saw here today.

R.L.: So the cast will leave the stage?

J.K.: Absolutely. They will leave the stage and integrate into the audience above you and around you, on the sides of you.

R.L.: You also were the director of “Michael Jackson Immortal,” so how tough was it to do a show different from a show you have already done? It has got to be the toughest.

J.K.: I think at first the idea of it made me a bit nervous; I felt the challenge of it. I was so excited about another opportunity and knowing that it would be different because I know how to do a rock show. That was really what ‘Immortal’ was meant to be -- a rock/Cirque interpretation, arenas I get that -- but a theater show, to be able to do that, is really a dream for me. It already is a different show because it is in a theater, and once I got my head around that, a smaller, more intimate venue, it can be much more immersive.

The bigger challenge was the music. If I have to use the same songs because you know it is Michael’s hits, we want to make sure the fans in the audience feel Michael’s hits. I had those in ‘Immortal,’ so it was about making them different. How do I show them in a different way?

R.L.: Which is my next question. “One” presumably is based on the No. 1 hits that he had. Did he have enough hits to fill the show?

J.K.: It is Michael Jackson, of course, come on! I didn’t start by counting Michael’s No. 1’s. I took his No. 1’s and then I inserted them in the show, but then I needed the story because we are doing a theatrical show this time around. There is much more story, it is much more story driven and fairytale-like, so because of that, I needed certain songs that weren’t No. 1’s at times for segues and interstitial moments to tell the story.

R.L.: Where does the storyline start? How old is he, and where does it finish?

J.K.: It is in no way a chronological biopic story of Michael Jackson. It is a complete new fairytale in a Cirque way. We have created a new story, something that people may or may not get all the way, but we certainly do. And we think it is a great fairytale and journey to go on using Michael’s music.

R.L.: The theater was built to your specs because of what you are doing on an interactive basis? Unlike anything we’ve seen before?

J.K.: Yes, for sure. It is immersive, and you will see with the visuals alone. They really wrap around in a way that is unlike any theater that I have ever seen. Call it the visuals wraparound theater.

R.L.: Did you get to spend all the money you wanted, or did you go over budget?

J.K.: Do we ever get to spend all the money we want? Come on now! (Laughs) Do I ever go over budget? I feel like these are all questions that you could answer. You know my history. I tend to go over budget; ask Madonna!

R.L.: Is this the best show to date that you have done?

J.K.: It is the most inspiring to me at the moment. It is something that is not completely finished yet, so I can’t say, to date, because it is not done.

However, as you’ll read in our interviews this week, Daniel Lamarre, Cirque’s president, and John Branca, Michael Jackson’s estate lawyer and executor, certainly believe that “One” is already the best show to date.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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