Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Live review: Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour, Time Warner Cable Arena (4/8/2014)

Posted By on Wed, Apr 9, 2014 at 12:28 PM

Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil
Time Warner Cable Arena
April 8, 2014

The Immortal World Tour
  • The Immortal World Tour

After Michael Jackson's sudden death in 2009, just as he was about to perform a final series of shows at the O2 Arena in London, Cirque du Soleil put together a tribute to the King of Pop and incorporated elements of what would have been in his final curtain call. Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour was conceived in 2011 as a way to get fans "as close as you can get to a rock concert," Cirque CEO Daniel Lamarre stated when the show first premiered. It's all in an effort to, according to Lamarre, make people feel like "Michael Jackson is alive."

Nothing and no one can perform like Jackson could, so it had a lot to live up to as Jackson fans shuffled into Time Warner Cable Arena on Tuesday night. The show touts 3D and holographic video technology that will amaze and make it feel like Jackson is in the room. So, as the lights go down, anticipation builds.

The Immortal World Tour starts out with Michael, as expected - sort of. Five Jacksons appear on the stage. They are "super fans" who start the show by having a dance off with their best MJ moves before going on a spray-painting rampage via a giant LED screen cityscape. "Working Day and Night" gets the show going, and it grinds to a heart stopping halt as the five Jackson's on stage produce an iconic image of Michael. It's hard to have a Michael Jackson show without the man himself, but stunts like this (along with some carefully selected video clips) could maybe fool you. But just maybe.

It's clear from the start though that this isn't a rock concert. With elements of Cirque, there's just no way. But where Cirque can veer dangerously, at times, toward becoming a circus act, Immortal actually avoids that pitfall by toning down all of the usual flipping in favor of focusing on the man and, of course, his dance moves.

Although some of the coolest scenes of the night had nothing to do with Jackson the man, but everything to do with the iconic items he made legendary. For example, his shoes. Two men stepped into a giant pair of Jackson's signature shoes - the ones famous for the "Smooth Criminal" lean, the moonwalk, you name it to bring a larger-than-life version of them to life.

Even Jackon's glove gets a place in the show. A single, giant, sparkly glove takes on a life of its own next to Jackson's shoes and socks, seemingly alive as it snores and awakens to tap in time with the beat. There was no need for flaming acrobatics or aerial dancers, and yet there was still an added element of playfulness which is unique to Cirque.

Naturally, aerial dancers and the like do appear. The show incorporates them mildly into pieces centered around video and dancers in various MJ garb displaying the most recent lighting technology in their costumes.

At times, what is normally the bread and butter of Cirque takes a backseat to a smorgasbord of visual aids. Other times, it brings certain subtleties of Jackson's greatest hits to life, like a pole dancer high above the audience working it for "Dangerous" or the balletic performance of a lone ariel dancer to "Just Can't Stop Loving You." Visually, it can be a bunch of organized chaos.

The show doesn't really tell Jackson's life story but it highlights his playful side everywhere you look. The first 20 minutes of the show were vaguely devoted to his childhood and the gates of Jackson's Neverland Ranch with childlike statues coming alive. (Fittingly the soundtrack is "Have You Seen My Childhood?")

Then Michael Jackson's "giving tree" takes center stage and the scene plays out with an unnerving, giant Michael Jackson child's head surveying the entire scene through a window. Hmmm...

The majority of the two hour show more than lived up to the hype. It's fun and incorporates Cirque with all of Jackson's best songs and dance moves. But that first 20 minutes is creepy and seems completely out of place. It's as though the creators knew they should touch on Jackson's obsession with remaining childlike, but finished the show and didn't know where in the show to stick it.

Luckily the transition to the rest of the show is good enough (here's looking at you, "This Place Hotel" - a number filled with exotic tango in a hotel setting that flawlessly leads into "Smooth Criminal") that you almost manage to forget the disturbing and random childhood segment. Almost.

MJ's spirit is definitely in the house with every single song and note, image and carefully choreographed move. The dancers who take the stage - to perform Jackson's iconic moves or as ariel dancers who fly above the audience - feel it and take that energy to another level to celebrate Jackson. Because that's what the show is at its core: a celebration of a legacy.

Perhaps Lamarre spoke too boldly when originally proclaiming the show would make the audience feel Jackson was back. It's a big party and celebration of Jackson and it doesn't disappoint in paying tribute to arguably the best performer of all time. How many other artists could inspire a show to this level and have such an impressive catalogue as to provide a two-hour soundtrack?

The show is a spectacle of color, lights and technology fused with live-action acrobatics that only Cirque can pull off. It doesn't even remotely fool the audience into believing they're at a Michael Jackson show but it will inspire a huge arena to dance and celebrate their hero's life. All while rocking out to some of his best hits in an arena rigged with a great sound system. What's not to like?

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