Monday, October 3, 2011
How do you stage a Michael Jackson show without Michael Jackson? With high energy dancing and acrobatics, plenty of razzle dazzle, tons of ingenuity and lots of carefully selected video clips of Jackson himself.
That seems to be more or less the recipe adhered to by the Cirque du Soleil in creating Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour which had its world premiere at the Belle Centre last night (Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011). It plays here again tonight before moving on to Ottawa, then to about 60 other North American cities.
This $60 million arena show that sold $40 million worth of tickets within 24 hours when it was first announced, is not like anything the Cirque has done before, although its genre is similar to that of Viva ELVIS and LOVE (the Beatles show) in Las Vegas.
This MJ show has circus acts, but it’s not a circus. Nor is it a rock concert or dance show, exactly, either. Insofar as people are expecting any one of the above, they may feel a bit shortchanged. But if they go with the performance art flow of it all, they are not likely to be bored.
This is a dazzling, fast-pace spectacle for people with short attention spans, flitting from one song to the next, seldom settling down with one for a whole number. All is deftly rearranged, using live music and Jackson’s recorded voice. The audience is overwhelmed with images, some of them on screens, others created through maniupulation of quirky props, like a mega-sized white glove, a huge Jackson hat that conceals several dancers or a pair of giant shoes and socks, with dancers inside.
There’s no real attempt to tell Jackson’s life story, but it does begin with a five-clown band, evoking the Jackson Five. (Not the most successful idea in the show, given their moves aren’t nearly as slick as the originals and their bad afro wigs don’t become them well.)
The show offers a fairly comprehensive sampling of Jackson’s better-known songs. Early on, there’s a poignant rendition of Have You Seen My Childhood? Some songs, like Dancing Machine and Black or White, get more of a workout than others. Fantasies of Neverland come alive, one after another, sometimes at very high volume. There’s quiet time, too, with Jackson speaking his own lyrics.
A solo dancer/acrobat in sparkling white does mime shtick that reminds us where the moonwalk came from. He returns again and again throughout the show, at one point doing a series of startling backwards cartwheels. (Do not try this at home.) Aerial acts are used frequently to conquerthe cavernous space of the Bell Centre. A single contortionist worms her way out of a giant book, in one clevelry staged scene.
Unlike most Cirque shows, this one, directed by Jamie King, is prepared to do a couple of encores. And on Sunday night it was clear that 15,000 people wanted more. And more.
*Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour premiered at the Bell Centre on Sunday. It will return March 20, 21 and 22 and July 6-7, 2012. Tickets from $50 to $250.: www.evenko.ca or 514-790-2525 or 1-877-668-8269. Next stop is Ottawa, on Oct. 7-8, 2011.