Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour keeps MJ alive
As a lover of bright, dazzling performances, it should come as no surprise that Michael Jackson was a great fan of Cirque du Soleil. Now it's Cirque du Soleil's turn to prove how big of Michael Jackson fans they are. His legacy and music have been spun into an extravaganza of aerial acrobatics, choreography, video and stagecraft in Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour, which hits Chicago’s United Center July 20–21.
The show, a collaboration between the Montreal-based circus entertainment company and Michael Jackson's estate, was written by famed concert director and former MJ tour dancer Jamie King. It serves as a huge, technically complex memorial to the King of Pop, a longtime fan of Cirque du Soleil whose image and performances are projected on video across a surface bigger than the size of a basketball court.
Nods to the legend of Michael Jackson—like the Neverland setting and props such as eight-foot long penny loafers and a six-foot tall glove with dancers inside—are just the beginning. The show hired former members of his band to make sure it had as many direct ties to Jackson as possible. It features more than 30 of his songs and some of his original choreography, in addition to the more usual Cirque fare of aerial acrobatics and pole acts. A Jackson 5 medley even comes into play.
"Michael Jackson gave us such wonderful material to work from, so that also feels like such an opportunity," says Tara Young, the show's artistic director (Cirque's term for what others might call associate director; Young travels with the show to maintain King's directorial vision). Even on a long tour—the show premiered in Montreal last October—she says it's easy to maintain the integrity of the performance, sometimes even just by reminding the performers to listen to what Michael is saying: "Because when you listen to Michael Jackson's lyrics, you understand his messages, which were so full of hope, peace, love, unity."
As someone with years of experience on Broadway, serving as associate director or associate choreographer on shows such as Ragtime, Thou Shalt Not and The Pirate Queen, one of Young's biggest challenges was dealing with the intense travel schedule. To keep the show consistent even in new houses, again, it all comes back to MJ. If the artists didn't already feel his presence coursing through their veins, Young is there to remind them: "The focus is Michael Jackson."
With cutting-edge props, costumes and equipment, The Immortal is the largest arena show in the world, traveling with 35 55-foot trucks that take some eight hours to load in at each new city. Three of them are devoted entirely to costumes and the washers, dryers and supplies it takes to maintain the high-tech duds. More than 90 costume pieces use LED lighting, and some aspects were made using 3D printing. It’s all part of Cirque du Soleil’s mission to always keep innovating, a mission Young says they share with Michael.
"When you see a Cirque du Soleil show, you’re fully aware that anything is actually possible," she says. "You’re so aware that we are doing things that you’ve never seen before, but we actually do it. And Michael Jackson was somebody that did that as well."
Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour plays United Center Friday 20 and Saturday 21.