04
Oct
13

Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil

 

Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil 

The Estate of Michael Jackson and Cirque du Soleil

Brisbane Entertainment Centre

2 – 6 October 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

After the show I spoke with one of the Artistic Directors, Neela Vadivel, who was more than happy to address my tricky questions about The Estate’s take on Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil. Neela, bright as a button at 11pm when I was teetering and Poppy had already crashed, told me that there are only two Michael Jackson shows in the world that have been approved by The Estate, “and we have them both.” Cirque is super proud to bring the first of their two MJ shows to the world (the second show, Michael Jackson One by Cirque du Soleil, is up and running in Las Vegas. It’s a little more “Cirque”. Expect to see it here…eventually), and there’s a bit of a reverent ambience backstage; there is – quite rightly – an enormous amount of respect amongst these ranks for MJ.

 

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Five “super fans”, The Fanatics, open the show – they’re the MJ lookalikes who appear in lieu of the clowns we love to see at a Cirque show – and they create a giant mural of Michael Jackson before we are suddenly taken into the world of Neverland and MJ’s Neverland Zoo. I’ve had some fascinating conversations with people about this show, and on more than one occasion I’ve been very glad my memory hasn’t failed me. Just in case the naysayers were right and I was wrong, I did some reading. You can check the facts for yourself here, but I think it’s important to note that MJ didn’t spend all his money on theme park rides, exotic jungle creatures and keepers. In fact, he donated to many charities, and founded or contributed to more good causes than most. Despite this show coming across as a bit of a myth-making effort, there is merit in its messages of hope, compassion and peace, which we get full-pelt in Act Two, just in case we missed them earlier. So more on that later.

 

The IMMORTAL band, led by Darrell Smith, whose handshake is as impressively strong as his musicianship, play over tracks that have been created especially for the show, allowing the musos (a number of whom, including Smith, and also the drummer, John “Sugarfoot” Moffett, are Michael Jackson’s original band members), allowing us to hear the familiar original eighties and nineties beats beneath a fuller, richer band sound with additional backing vocals sung live by Fred White and Stevvi Alexander. If you’re not a Michael Jackson fan, you’ll still love the live concert sound, louder than anything I’ve ever heard at Boondall, the bass reverberating beneath us, and most of the audience on their feet well before the end of the show.

 

My favourite segments, largely due to the clever combination of dance and aerial, showcasing MJ’s famed choreography and Cirque’s renowned acrobatics, comprised This Place Hotel, Smooth Criminal and Dangerous. The Pole Dancer, Guest artist Anna Melnikova, is without doubt the best pole dancer I’ve seen, her strength and grace defying gravity, her confidence and supreme skill daring the women around me in the Grandstand to keep watching just as the men do, in total awe; it’s the admiration she is due. Also impressive in their superior skill sets are Guest Artists Luba Kazantseva and Hampus Jansson (Aerial Silks) and Baaska Enkhbaatar (Contortionist, eliciting similar gasps and wide eyes from some of the women sitting near me).

 

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Now, let me mention The Mime. He gets a special credit in the press list, unlike the lighting guys – it’s Mansour Abdessadok – but I didn’t find his role particularly effective, more a distraction, interrupting what would otherwise be beautifully smooth transitions from one segment to the next. (The spectacular lighting alone could move us from one number to the next!). Dressed in silver-white street attire, The Mime represents all things urban and MJ, channelling the spirit of Michael Jackson and performing a beatbox number that others may have better appreciation for. The concept is fine – I can see how it would have worked at the butchers paper/whiteboard/round table stage but it fails to capture my imagination as much as other aspects of the production.

 

Thriller is a winner with the audience, with its iconic choreography combined with the leaps and bounds of the acrobats, and Beat It adds some humour to the evening with a giant glove and a pair of penny loafers magically coming to life. But the real magic of this number is the cellist, Mariko, another artist who we were privileged to meet backstage, and though tiny she may be in real life, on stage she is a dazzling superwoman, rocking her electric cello in a one-legged sparkling hot pants suit! I am in awe of Mariko and also, with the other best casting job of the show, the awesome lead guitarist, Desiree Bassett.

 

After Interval the environmental messages come thick and fast, followed by the political; we get some real Cirque action with a perfectly synchronised team of aerial dancers, which leads into a reenactment of a sequence from MJ’s THIS IS IT tour; it’s a gridiron army of soldiers with LED breastplates in case we miss the message in the lyrics: THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT US. I tell Poppy to take her eyes away from the multiple screens, which are flickering with violent, desperate images, and instead, try to focus on the dancers themselves. What is that symbol? A dollar sign. And that one? Peace. Even the seven year old gets it. If you’re taking a little friend, this segment may be challenging. The following sequence may be challenging also, depending on your emotional state, and your love and admiration for MJ. It’s a bit of a tearjerker. As Michael Jackson’s voice and image gives us his original rendition of I’ll Be There, artists come from every direction to make their way through the audience holding glowing red hearts. By this time I’m looking forward to a little more iconic dance and I’m not disappointed.

 

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The Mega Mix comprises Can You Feel It, Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough, Billie Jean and Black or White, again utilising many wires and showcasing Cirque’s superb acrobatic and aerial skills. The LED costumes featured here, and elsewhere throughout the show are pretty special, and we took a closer look at them with Nate after the show. It’s technology created for Cirque by Cirque and it’s continuously evolving, with the latest models featuring inserts so, for example, wardrobe can take care of the sweaty, grubby gloves while techs can fix any LED issues at the same time. The batteries are also Cirque-made and we saw an entire packing case on charge, such are the numbers required to power the many costumes in IMMORTAL!

 

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IMMORTAL ends with Man In the Mirror, in a celebration of the “legacy of an immortal” and despite there being more to this story, this production is a big, hearty chunk of it; it’s a broad collection of the happiest chapters of what I still believe, ultimately, to be a very sad story about an individual who felt the need to re-create himself and in the process, got a good way along the road to changing the world. As far as mythmakers go The Estate of Michael Jackson and Cirque du Soleil just rose to the top.

 

IMMORTAL must finish in Brisbane on Sunday.

 

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2 Responses to “Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil”


  1. October 8, 2013 at 4:33 am

    Great review, thanks – gonna check the tour dates and might even be able to take the ‘non-theatre’ boyfriend! 🙂


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