Michael Jackson is four weeks into rehearsals in Burbank, Calif., more than $85 million is in the bank from ticket sales, and the King of Pop's return to the stage for 50 shows at London's O2 Arena is looking increasingly like it will happen.
The shows begin July 8, Jackson's first in 12 years. Producer/promoter AEG Live has footed the bill for a $20 million production, and the show layout is coming together. "Originally we tried to keep the show down to 90 minutes, but Michael has so many must-do songs in his repertoire that the shows now will be two-plus hours," AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips tells Billboard.
Phillips would not reveal details of the production, but one could expect a multi-media experience that would be "the most cutting edge ever employed on a tour. We're using technology that's never been used before in live entertainment."
The deal is set up where Jackson shares in net ticket revenue which, according to Billboard calculations, would make Jackson's take on ticket sales alone north of $50 million, though Phillips would not confirm this.
Tickets average about $115 and capacity for the shows will be about 15,000 per, taking the gross for the run to about $90 million. Premium and VIP packages and secondary market sales will boost the gross to more than $100 million. Merchandise sales could bring in another $15 million.
Phillips says AEG Live is well-insured for the event. "We have one policy in place and we're negotiating for an even larger binder," says Phillips. "We have insured the production costs. In order to get the first part of the insurance in place [Jackson] had to have a physical, and he passed it with flying colors."
Phillips called the rehearsal process "exciting. We're using two soundstages, and Michael's working in one with production designers and choreographer/director Kenny Ortega and associate director Travis Payne. And in the other one the dancers and the band - killer musicians - are rehearsing the set and the choreography for each song."
Dancer auditions were held April 13-15 at the Nokia Theatre in L.A., with more than 700 dancers auditioning. We weeded it down to 200 by the third day, and Michael sat in on the final auditions and chose the finalists with Kenny Travis and myself. Everyone's locked in."
Jackson is now working out specific songs, though a top-to-bottom dress rehearsal won't be ready for a month. "Michael's in incredible physical shape, he's got tremendous stamina, he's been working out aerobically preparing for this, and he is totally engaged," Phillips says. "He sounds like Michael Jackson. He is laser-focused on making this the greatest entertainment event that fans have ever seen."
Various legal maneuvers by former Jackson associates attempting to derail the shows are "completely meritless and have not impacted rehearsals in any way," Phillips says. "We have a bona fide contract, the deal's in place, he's performing, we're performing."