Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour is perhaps the closest you can come to seeing Michael Jackson live in concert today, but the experience is even more enhanced with the incredible cutting-edge technology of light, sound, screen projections, screen graphics, and the talent of world-class acrobats, dancers, choreographers, musicians, and set and light designers, all collaborating with Cirque du Soleil.
The experience of watching this show goes beyond the pleasure of the spectacle; it is more akin to a modern-day equivalent of the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk. All your senses are engaged through the lighting, the music, the rhythms, the movements on the different stages and screen. This mix of sensations captivates you and leaves you in a trance long after the show is over. If you didn’t happen to like Michael Jackson’s music and choreography before, you most certainly will now.
The show is written and directed by Jamie King, a leading concert director in the world of pop music today and a multiple Emmy Award and MTV Video Music Award nominee, who was greatly influenced by his early years working for both Prince and Michael Jackson. King has choreographed some of the most popular music videos and directed some of the highest grossing concert tours, such as Madonna’s 2008 Sticky & Sweet world tour, as well as her 2006 record-breaking Confessions world tour. It is his first show with Cirque du Soleil.
The show premiered in Montreal at the Bell Centre on October 2, 2011 and kicked-off the world tour which has been travelling across North America and the rest of the world. Members of the Jackson Family, including Michael’s mother, Katherine, and his three children, attended the opening performance. The show captures the essence, soul and inspiration of the King of Pop, celebrating a legacy that continues to transcend generations.
The scenes are designed to combine Michael Jackson’s vision from his many ellaborate music videos and songs, as well as to provide insights into his creativity. Neverland was chosen as the venue to hold the first meeting of the show’s creative team. “I remember going to Neverland with the creative team and meeting the grounds people who
have remained faithful to Michael,” said Jamie King. “I recall seeing the Giving Tree where he wrote among other things most of the Dangerous tour that I danced on.”
Props and Scenic Designer Michael Curry, who was one of the designers on the This Is It concert tour, has developed props that serve as storytelling devices. For example, a huge book of tales and Michael’s famed glove and shoes become giant props inhabited by nimble dancers. Curry’s goal was to tap into and trigger the fans’ memories of Michael, and to focus attention on the performance. Many of the props are subtext for the songs or support the narrative. “Working on a rock show without a live artist can be challenging,” Set Designer, Mark Fisher explained. “In this case, the set design takes on a whole new meaning. Its role is to fill the shadows as it were, and to evoke the artist’s presence.”
A large, multi-purpose LED screen was developed for the show: it starts flat on the stage,
stands up to act as a projection surface and turns into a ramp. In the middle of the stage, there are large drawers that serve as steps for artists to perform on. There is also a stage area that extends into the audience as a runway that is equipped with a conveyor belt,
a lift and video screen. The total video projection surface in the show is more than 5,300 square feet, larger than a basketball court. It took more than 9,000 hours to create all the props and puppets used in the show.
The video projections only act as storytelling devices, they play a key role in making Michael’s presence palpable. Projection Designer Olivier Goulet integrated video content such as footage of Michael’s performances and real-time projections of the performances on stage. The giant shoes directly reference Michael Jackson’s famous penny loafers. They are eight feet long and created from orthopedic foam with a vinyl skin. The six-foot tall glove is a soft sculpture that allows the dancer inside to create various hand positions using their full body.
To weave together the all-important musical components of the show, Jamie King called upon Musical Designer Kevin Antunes, who was given unprecedented access to the master
recordings, and Musical Director Greg Phillinganes, who has worked with Michael for more than 25 years, providing an unparalleled depth of knowledge of his music and live
performances. “Our goal is not to simply cover Michael, but to take his music to a whole new level,” King explains. The Director wanted to integrate as many songs into the
production as possible, so this meant mash-ups, remixes and new arrangements. It also meant moving them forward emotionally, weaving songs together in new ways so that the
music feels new and fresh all the while respecting Michael’s essence and his voice.
To showcase Michael’s voice and support the huge cast, Musical Director Greg Phillinganes has rounded up a stellar group of musicians, including Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett, who played drums for Michael for 30 years. “I wanted to handpick everybody on the band,” he explains. “I knew exactly whom I wanted. We have a full band, including horns and an electric cello. I wanted to have as many players as possible with a direct, personal history with Michael Jackson. We are all doing this because of the love we have for Michael. His spirit will live in this show.”
During Dancing Machine, cinematic sound effects were added to blend the music with the acrobatic performance. They Don’t Care About Us features a previously unreleased
choir that Michael recorded. The Jackson 5 song ABC features a never-heard before
outtake call and response that Michael recorded when he was young. The voice of Naomi Campbell and elements of the song In the Closet were blended into the intro of the Dangerous scene.
Few stage performers have created iconic looks that are directly related to specific songs: Billie Jean, and the black sequin jacket, black and white-striped tuxedo pants and
fedora hat immediately come to mind. As for Thriller, one unmistakably sees the red leather jacket with the two black diagonal stripes. Michael’s world was the wellspring of Costume Designer Zaldy Goco’s creativity. ”My approach has been to draw upon and respect Michael’s iconic style while creating something new and fresh. I placed subtle references throughout the costumes in the show,” said Zaldy, who was also Michael Jackson’s exclusive designer for the This Is It concert series. “In particular, we explored techniques such as 3D printing and LED, pushing the limits just as Michael would,” said Zaldy.
The ghoulish Thriller characters wear pure white, shiny outfits; the bloody innards that show behind the wrappings reflect Michael’s love for horror movies. The straps duo artists appear as magnificent swans; covered in Swarovski crystals, their costumes are corseted and laced in reference to Michael’s corseted wrist in his Black or White video.
Each costume in the Celestial/Human Nature scene is equipped with 275 blinking LED lights specially designed for the show. They change color during the song to mimic
constellations. More than 90 costume pieces in three different acts use unique LED light technology. There are more than 250 costumes in the show and more than 1,000 pieces total including accessories, shoes, hats and head pieces. Three 52-foot trucks are required to carry the costumes and additional wardrobe equipment (washers and dryers, sewing machines, supplies, etc.) from city to city.
Among multiple high-points in both acts of the show, the finale sequence is a fusion of music, dance and acrobatics. During Can You Feel It acrobats execute a Swiss rings act moving from stage to sky. This scene segues into a riveting dance number on Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough. Michael’s famed choreographic style is showcased once more during the Billie Jean sequence; his silhouette is revealed by the dancers’ LED costumes. In Black or White, performers manipulate flags in a tribute to the nations and dance styles of the
world, including African, Spanish, Thai and Georgian dances. The show’s finale culminates with the song Man in the Mirror – a song Michael often chose to end his concerts.
Michael Jackson’s three solo concert tours were the greatest entertainment events of all time. Starting in 1987, the Bad World Tour featured 123 concerts in 15 countries. And, playing to 4.4 million fans and grossing over $125 million, was recognized as the biggest and most successful tour of all time! Although he vowed never to tour again, Michael Jackson kicked off the Dangerous World Tour in 1992, and it proved to be an even bigger success. Featuring pyrotechnics, several illusions, and a stuntman, the show was so big that two 747s were needed to transport all the equipment. And, true to his message of spreading global love, he donated the profits from the entire tour to charity. With his third and final tour, Michael Jackson broke his own world record — again. Launched in 1996, the HIStory World Tour hit 58 cities in 35 countries on five continents. And, with 82 concerts for 4.5 million fans, grossed a total of $165 million.
The remaining Immortal World Tour dates include:
Chicago – July 20, 2012
Ottawa – July 24, 2012
Toronto – July 27, 2012
Boston – August 3, 2012
Vancouver – August 10, 2012
Los Angeles – August 14, 2012
London – October 12, 2012
Copenhagen – October 27, 2012
Helsinki – November 5, 2012
St. Petersburg – November 9, 2012
Frankfurt – November 16, 2012
Munich – November 24, 2012
Vienna – December 1, 2012
Berlin – December 19, 2012
If you haven’t already, go see this!
Cirque du Soleil International Headquarters are based in Montreal. From a group of 20 street performers at its beginnings in 1984, Cirque du Soleil is a major Québec-based organization with 5,000 employees, including more than 1,300 artists from close to 50 different countries, who have performed for more than 100 million spectators in more than 300 cities in over forty countries on six continents.
It all started in Baie-Saint-Paul, a small town near Québec City in Canada. There, in the early eighties, a band of colourful characters roamed the streets, striding on stilts, juggling, dancing, breathing fi re, and playing music. They were Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul (the Baie-Saint-Paul Stiltwalkers), a street theatre group founded by Gilles Ste-Croix. Already, the townsfolk were impressed and intrigued by the young performers – including Guy Laliberté who founded Cirque du Soleil. The troupe went on to found Le Club des talons hauts (the High Heels Club), and then, in 1982, organized La Fête foraine de Baie-Saint-Paul, a cultural event in which street performers from all over met to exchange ideas and enliven the streets of the town for a few days. La Fête foraine was repeated in 1983 and 1984. Le Club des talons hauts attracted notice, and Guy Laliberté, Gilles Ste-Croix and their cronies began to cherish a crazy dream: to create a Québec circus and take the troupe travelling around the world. In 1984, Québec City was celebrating the 450th anniversary of Canada’s discovery by Jacques Cartier, and they needed a show that would carry the festivities out across the province. Guy Laliberté presented a proposal for a show called Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun), and succeeded in convincing the organizers. And Cirque du Soleilhasn’t stopped since!