By Abby Tegnelia | November 8, 2011 | People
Dancers and acrobats in tribal costumes bring to life “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” in Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour
|Video montages of Michael are shown on screens several stories high|
|Mukhtar Omar Sharif and Michael Jackson backstage at The Beatles Love in 2007|
Michael Jackson’s first Cirque du Soleil tribute is bigger than big, an over-the-top touring rock concert built for stadiums packed with thousands of frenzied fans. The props are enormous, the cast and crew in the hundreds; there are 56 tour stops planned through July 2012, with more being added before the tour heads to Europe (Cirque founder Guy Laliberté says it could be on the road for years), and heavily produced video montages on screens several stories high that introduce heart-stopping videos of the late, great Michael, belting his heart out.
After all, the show’s title sets up some high expectations: Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour.
But stripped down, Cirque du Soleil’s The Immortal tour is a labor of love from those who knew him best, from choreographers Rich and Tone Talauega, brothers who worked with Michael for 10 years, to musical director Greg Phillinganes, who started working with the Jacksons back in 1978. These were the creative souls who made Michael tick. Many of them, including choreographer Travis Payne, costume designer Zaldy Goco, and props and scenic designer Michael Curry, were working with the music legend on his final tour, This Is It, until he died before his time on June 25, 2009. “For me, this is especially lovely and bittersweet,” says Curry, who also worked on Vegas’s Cirque shows Kà, Love, and Believe. “Michael’s assignment was always in my ear: ‘What does the audience see? What would they think of this?’ There was no creative on this show who didn’t use that as their guiding light.”
The Immortal kicked off in Montreal on October 2, embarking on a tour through Canada and the US, one to two nights in each city, before pausing in Las Vegas for 24 nights. In 2013, a new Michael show will move into what is currently The Lion King’s theater for a permanent residence down the street from fellow rock icons The Beatles, starring in Love at The Mirage, and Elvis Presley in Viva Elvis at CityCenter.
“We are not yet close to knowing how that show will be in Las Vegas, but I am thrilled that his story will be told there because he enjoyed the city so much,” Laliberté says. “Vegas will be very well treated with Michael’s presence. I think he would have loved that.”
The Cirque/Michael Jackson combo is a match made in theatrical heaven. The legendary entertainer, who had a house in Las Vegas, had seen almost every Vegas Cirque show at least twice and loved bringing his children backstage to meet the performers after the shows.
“To be a part of this Cirque show is a dream come true for him,” says Michael’s brother Jackie. “I am happy that Cirque and Michael finally got together.”
The show itself includes all the show-stoppers, from a version of “ABC” with a never-heard-before call and response that Michael recorded when he was young, to “Billie Jean,” “Man in the Mirror,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and “Black or White.” “Stock up on tissues,” warns musical designer Kevin Antunes. “There is a lot of emotion. They are good tears, but just make sure you have a tissue.”
The scenes that particularly affected Michael’s brothers Jackie, Tito, and Marlon: the number “Gone Too Soon” and a scene about the universe coming together as one. “We felt his presence at that time, and it brought tears to my eyes,” Jackie says. “I could just feel the energy from when we were all on stage, and the music we used to do.” Tito adds, “During those parts, I was like, ‘Michael would be proud of this. He is watching this.’”
Dancers wear LED-illuminated suits while performing “Billie Jean”
|The five Fanatics perform a Jackson 5 medley|
An Entirely New Jackson Show
There was a concerted effort among the entire crew to not use any material from This Is It, which never saw a live audience, but hit worldwide fame when released in movie theaters and on DVD.
“Michael was all about bringing new technology and new ideas to his fans,” says the costumer, Goco. “So it’s all new.” The one homage he couldn’t help himself: light-up suits using LED, which he says Michael went crazy over. In This Is It, Michael alone wore a suit to perform “Billie Jean,” so in the Cirque tribute, all of the dancers light up in brightly colored suits during this beloved number.
The Vegas/Montreal synergy is itself a strange phenomenon, an unbreakable bond between the Entertainment Capital of the World, currently home to seven Cirque shows, and the French Canadian stomping ground of Cirque creativity, where everything from the costumes to new acrobatic acts is designed from start to finish.
“Vegas is very, very important to us,” says Cirque president and CEO Daniel Lamarre. “Vegas is home for the people of Cirque du Soleil.”
The Las Vegas premiere of The Immortal (everyone in Montreal said they’d be there, from writer and director Jamie King to costumer Goco, who is bringing 20 friends and family) will be on December 3 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. During the busy North American tour, the Vegas stop will be the only city where the crew gets to stay put for more than a few nights. While that tour continues on, in Montreal they will begin the enormous undertaking of creating a permanent Cirque show for Vegas that is fit for a king (of pop).
“Obviously, it will be in a different environment,” Lamarre said at The Immortal premiere. “It will be in a theater, so it will be more theatrical than what you will see tonight, which is a rock show! It is very important that a lot of the things we are having in the show tonight will live in Vegas forever.”
photographs courtesy of cirque du soleil/osa images (immortal); molly ancell (sharif)