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Photos: ‘Michael Jackson One’ will be Cirque du Soleil’s biggest all-time winner


Tom Donoghue/

A sneak peek of Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson One” at Mandalay Bay on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

Michael Jackson One

'Michael Jackson One' Sneak Peek at Mandalay Bay

A sneak peek of Cirque du Soleil's Launch slideshow »

Sneak Peek of 'Michael Jackson One'

Dancers and acrobats perform during a sneak preview of the Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

Welby Altidor, left, director of creation, and Jamie King, writer and director, attend the sneak peek of Cirque du Soleil's "Michael Jackson One" at Mandalay Bay on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

Click to enlarge photo

A sneak peek of Cirque du Soleil's "Michael Jackson One" at Mandalay Bay on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

Click to enlarge photo

A sneak peek of Cirque du Soleil's "Michael Jackson One" at Mandalay Bay on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

Wow! Cirque du Soleil officials have said that its new show “Michael Jackson One” is its most ambitious entertainment endeavor to date. (That also probably means one of the most expensive, if not the No. 1, too.) It packs a bigger, more powerful knockout punch than anything Muhammad Ali ever threw.

Looking at four scenes in this morning’s sneak preview, they proved it, and I’m already going on record predicting that it will be Cirque’s biggest all-time winner. It’s dancing and acrobatics the likes that have never been seen. It’s visually stunning, electrifying and explosive, with sensational sound. This morning’s mini showcase came without finished video and lighting effects, yet was still spellbinding and beautifully breathtaking.

All very much a proper theatrical production that’s certainly different from the other seven Cirque shows already on the Strip. Previews start May 23 at Mandalay Bay, with its world premiere June 29. Thanks to contributing photographer Tom Donoghue for his photo gallery from the excerpts presented of “Tabloid Junkie,” “Stranger in Moscow,” “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal” and to Cirque for this first video posted on YouTube.

Our sneak preview began with red-caped paparazzi in the audience with cameras, flashbulbs and boom mics to remind us how Michael was constantly stalked by in-your-face paparazzi. Then four curious characters were magically whooshed up — balanced onstage on steam smoke — to provide the story thread.

(I was reminded how director Jamie King pulled off a similar coup back in Montreal when he introduced the four fans on exploding water bursts from fire hydrants for his touring show “Michael Jackson — The Immortal World Tour.” This time the characters are the mime, the heroes and the talismen tour guides who have magical Michael powers.)

Jamie has written and directed a totally different show this time around. Everything from makeup designs by Nathalie Gagne, costumes by Zaldy Goco, choreography by Travis Payne, Parris Goebel Rich and Tone Talauega to acrobatic performances designed by Rob Bollinger and Germain Guillemot are all totally unique and incredible. All in fact wonderfully overpowering.

Credit also to sound designer Jonathan Deans, who ensures that the audience hears Michael from the front-of-the-stage speakers and the multi-overlaid background tracks in the speakers embedded in each seat. The genius of Kevin Antunes as musical director shines though audibly with his unrestricted access to Michael’s original studio recordings.

As I reported this morning, 70 percent of the late King of Pop’s No.1 hits are played at full length for the 26 scenes with 63 dancers and performers in the cast. If the South Korean crew doesn’t dazzle you, you’ll be incredulous with the tight-wire artists dancing with their full bodies and feet on the tiniest of thin tape.

Jamie promised me many months ago that his show would envelop the audience, and it does with dancers leaping from the theater aisles onto the stage and performers swinging through the air on zip lines and flying thrones. They’re above you and surround you wherever you are in the theater. The room has been subtly transformed into a blue shimmering jewel from its former “The Lion King” and “Mamma Mia!” days. The entranceway has black-and-gold doors and 6-foot portraits from the Moonwalk sequence.

Cirque calls it a sonic tonic, a fusion of acrobatics, dance and visuals that take the audience on an immersive journey through the music and spirit of Michael. They deliver on the promise of his powerful, multi-layered music being heard like never before in a riveting, state-of-the-art surround-sound environment. The series of four seamless visual musical tableaux we witnessed today teases what’s to come in a Michael world of the magical, playful, majestic and heart-warming.

Jamie and Welby told us that they’re closing in on the end of production. “We’re about at the 60 percent stage. We are now digging deep into the adding of the lighting effects and the video visuals,” explained Welby. Their aerial performances, driving acrobatics and vivid choreography using urban hip-hop is a tribute to the legacy of Michael — the genius, the visionary, The One.

I’ll have our full one-on-one interviews with Jamie, Welby, Mandalay Bay President Chuck Bowling and John Branca, the lawyer of the Michael Jackson Estate, on Wednesday, but a quick sound bite for now:

John told me: “We are thrilled — it’s the ultimate theatrical tribute to Michael Jackson. It’s maximum power and couldn’t be done bigger or better. I can’t wait for you to see the entire show — there’s some incredible surprises we’re keeping until curtain up. I know Michael would be thrilled.

“The show captures Michael in vocals, the dance and the message. You can feel him here. Berry Gordy described Michael as the greatest entertainer who ever lived, and the show captures that. This is Michael and Cirque 4D with steroids to boot!”

Welby added: “We set out to ensure that he would be honored by it, that he would be inspired it. We have elements in this show that are completely different to anything that’s out there with other Cirque shows. It is signature, unique Michael Jackson with the fusion that makes it stand out from anything else.

“We wanted to give a more intimate experience of Michael’s music, and we do that with the music. We bring out all the hidden gems from his recordings to really feel his presence.”

Chuck continued: “It is new artistry not seen on the Strip previously or anywhere in the world. Today was making sure you saw all the differences of the show from anything else. It’s not coming to see a show; it’s experiencing a show. You take away the feeling of Michael Jackson. The theater provides an immersion into Michael’s world for the audience from the front row to the back. It has all that’s needed to be the No. 1 show in Las Vegas and thus the world.”

Jamie summed up: “We have done it the way Michael would have wanted: new, fresh and entertaining. He would have wanted this balance of rock and roll and fantasy. Michael always said, ‘Go farther, make it bigger, and create things people have never seen before.’ We have done that in an ambitious way. This reminds us that Michael was a great entertainer, a great humanitarian, and it’s a journey only he could take us on.”

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.

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