Musical Review: Michael Jackson The Immortal
Cirque du Soleil
October 30, 2013
Reviewed by Frances Morton
Weeks ago a billboard of Michael Jackson with his arms flung wide in crucifix pose materialised like an apparition on top of a former church in my neighbourhood. It turns out that messianic image was no oversell. Last night Jackson’s ghost returned to the arena stage in full preach mode courtesy of Cirque du Soleil. Michael Jackson The Immortal worships the memory of the troubled fallen King of Pop with twisty, high-energy evangelism that veers into downright awkwardness in places. At one point Michael Jackson’s anguished tearful voice is beamed in urging his followers to find hope over despair on this fragile earth. Screens flashing up photos of doe-eyed children only compound the ick factor given the star’s chequered history.
The genius – and legacy – of Jackson is not his clumsy efforts at humanitarianism but his damn fine music. A clip of Jackson as a fuzzy haired child belting out “I’ll be There” hammers home just what a gifted natural musician he was. Fortunately this production has plenty of Michael Jackson’s best music with a full live band booming from above the stage. The show packs 25 hits into its two-hour running time covering his entire career from the Jackson 5 funk number “Dancing Machine” to mega hits of the 80s “Thriller” and “Beat It”, to a re-enactment of “They Don’t Really Care About Us” designed for Jackson’s revival This Is It tour at the time of his sudden death in 2009. Loosely set at Jackson’s hideaway ranch Neverland, there is no particular coherence to the numbers which are linked only by recognisable symbols of Jackson’s life. Bubbles the chimp makes an appearance, as does the sparkly glove and fedora. The show’s writer and director Jamie King has worked with the biggest names in music including Madonna, Rihanna and Britney Spears and often times the show feels like a dance version of pop concert. A mime wearing a sparkly silver tracksuit showing off Jackson’s full gamut of dance moves stands in for our absent star.
Despite a few “I love you Michaels” shouted out during the cringey soppy numbers, the real crowd pleasers are when the Cirque du Soleil acrobats do what they do best – perform flabbergasting aerial feats. These are few and far between but worth the wait. The spinning entwined forms of Luba Kazantseva and Hampus Jansson suspended by a rope high above the stage is a staggering display of physical strength and beauty. Anna Melnikova’s pole dance is similarly superb. The show is peppered with tumbling, dancers pinging on ropes above the audience and a contortionist but mostly plays out like a collection of brilliantly choreographed music videos.
Michael Jackson devotees may find a religious experience at this zealous tribute. Cirque du Soleil fans will be left wondering whether half the troupe ran away from the circus.
Until November 3.