Cirque du Soleil’s ‘IMMORTAL’ captures ‘spirit of Michael’
Being “immortal” was not in the cards for Michael Jackson.
Yet that didn’t deter Cirque du Soleil from bringing Jackson back to life, in the same way it revived Elvis in “Viva Elvis” and John Lennon and George Harrison in “Love.”
“Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL” is even bigger and flashier than those shows and is reputed to be the biggest event ever to hit the Spokane Arena.
Think of it as a hybrid between a giant rock concert and a typical Cirque acrobatic extravaganza. It premiered in Montreal last month and arrives at the Arena for a single show Saturday (downsized from its previously announced two-night run).
Variety magazine critic Richard Ozounian summed up the reaction at the premiere like this: “(It) manages to capture the essence of Jackson better than seems possible. … Early reaction in Montreal indicated die-hard Jackson fans are ecstatic, while non-believers remain so throughout.”
Well, there probably aren’t too many non-believers buying tickets to a show titled “Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL.” Die-hard fans, meanwhile, get what they crave.
“We feel his presence,” said Cirque du Soleil’s Maxime Charbonneau.
One thing it definitely does not have: a Michael Jackson impersonator.
“You cannot replace Michael,” Charbonneau said.
The show has some of the traditional Cirque elements: Acrobats will fly. It will also have elaborate production numbers, which attempt to capture the “spirit of Michael,” said Charbonneau.
In fact, there’s a character called the Mime, who more or less embodies the spirit of Jackson.
And Jackson’s voice will fill the arena from the moment the show starts.
“We had access to his original recordings from the early days to his last week,” said Charbonneau. “There’s a big 12-member live band, so the only thing that’s recorded is Michael’s voice.”
The band features a number of veterans from Jackson’s own band, including Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett, who dates from the old Jackson Five days.
It also includes several musicians slated to play on Jackson’s ill-fated “This Is It” tour, for which he was preparing when he died in June 2009.
The cast list totals 65 people, including 25 dancers and 12 musicians. The rest will be acrobats and various other Cirque performers.
“There are some acrobatic numbers, some tumbling numbers, some aerial numbers,” said Charbonneau.
The production values should live up to the spectacular Cirque standards.
Variety’s reviewer reported that “the high, golden gates of Neverland part to lead us through a fantasy world where an animatronic baby Michael floats through the arena on a hot air balloon, while acrobats dressed in black float through the sky, their bodies illuminated to turn them into constellations.”
This show is, as the people at the Spokane Arena have taken pains to remind us, the biggest show ever to hit the facility – at least as measured by the truckload.
It takes 37 tractor-trailers to transport it. In fact, Cirque blamed the cancellation of next Sunday’s previously scheduled Arena date on the complicated logistics of moving this gigantic show.
But, still, you shouldn’t expect it to be like a typical high-flying Cirque show. Nor should you even expect it to be like the Elvis or Beatles shows in Las Vegas.
“Those other shows are more intimate, performed in more intimate theaters,” said Charbonneau. “This show fills the entire arena. It’s the first time Cirque has ventured into the pop-rock concert world.”
So far, it’s attracting plenty of people who take Jackson seriously.
“At every show, we have people wearing hats, gloves, ‘Thriller’ red leather jackets,” said Charbonneau. “They buy tickets in front and dance throughout the entire show.”
Of course, not all of the Jackson-related news has been happy lately. Yet this show is about his art, not about his stormy personal life.
“We do this in tribute to a great artist, not only a well-known celebrity,” said Charbonneau.