With his musical innovations and electrifying dance moves, the late Michael Jackson carved out his own unique imaginative world within the realm of pop music, one that was surprisingly fresh, enchantingly surreal, and at times, unquestionably odd. Now his musical legacy is carving a similar space in the Cirque du Soleil production catalog, as Jackson joins the ranks of Elvis Presley and the Beatles as one of only three music legends paid tribute through a Cirque du Soleil theatrical show. “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour,” which began in October 2011, premieres in New Orleans tonight at the New Orleans Arena.
Jackson’s musical legacy and imagination seem particularly fitting for a fanciful Cirque du Soleil translation, which recreates the alternative world of Jackson’s music through dance, acrobatics, visuals, vivid costume and intricate settings. “Michael Jackson’s creative world was so rich,” says Francis Jalbert, Assistant Public Relations Manager at Cirque du Soleil Montreal. “He creates a world within his music, one that takes people elsewhere, and that’s what we do at Cirque du Soleil as well. I think the audience will be amazed by how well his world and that of Cirque du Soleil’s work together.”
Jalbert emphasizes that “The Immortal World Tour” is not a classic Cirque du Soleil production grounded in acrobatics. While it does have acrobatic acts, he says, the show is heavy on dance and video production. Unlike its musical legacy counterparts, “Immortal” adopts the form of a live concert rather than a biographical narrative. The show’s main vocals are all authentically Jackson’s backed by live vocalists and a 12-person band onstage. “It’s really as if you were attending a Michael Jackson concert,” says Jalbert. “You’ll have the energy and at some point you might even think he’s going to come out because you’ll see him on videos and feel his presence throughout the whole show.”
The show’s writer and director Jamie King, renowned among choreograpers, was a dancer on one of Jackson’s tours in the 1990s .“It was a natural choice for us to work with Jamie,” says Jalbert. Most recently, King has directed world tours for Rihanna, Celine Dion, and Britney Spears, and has been Madonna’s creative director for the past 12 years. “The way Jamie treats every song [of Jackson’s] is super creative and I think people will be surprised by what we’ve done with those songs,” Jalbert adds.
Many on the creative team have a professional history with Jackson including Costume Designer Zaldy Goco. As its head designer, Goco created many of the costumes for Jackson’s “This Is It” tour that was supposed to begin in London in 2009. Some of these costumes are being used in “Immortal.” Travis Payne, the production’s choreographer, also collaborated with Jackson on and off for more than 15 years. “[Payne] really knows Michael’s style,” says Jalbert, “and created some of his iconic moves like the leaning forward and the moonwalk.”
“In the creative process, we’ve had people who knew Michael who could guide us,” Jalbert says, “to make sure that we would respect the man and create a show that would present who he was.”
The show is designed for audiences that didn’t grow up during the apex of Jackson’s fame. “We find that major hits, like ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Thriller’—even the youngsters know those because these are legendary songs,” says Jalbert. “But the show also looks young, looks fresh, looks new. It’s really bright, super energetic, and heavy on dance, so it’s a show that the young will love as well as the people that were fans of Michael in the ’80s.”
According to Jalbert, iin the avant-garde language of Cirque, each song immerses the audience in a unique atmosphere. “Wanna Be Starting Something” is set in the jungle as dancers perform African-inspired moves. “Human Nature” is set in the stars with performers clad in multicolored LED costumes. The unreleased song “This Place Hotel” is set in an underground nightclub with dancers performing an aerial tango. “We interpret each song in our own way,” says Jalbert, “and we are definitely taking the audience on a journey through the creative mind of Michael.”
“Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” plays tonight and tomorrow night at the New Orleans Arena. Tickets are on sale now.