New Cirque du Soleil Show Is Michael Jackson 'On Steroids'
Eleven months after announcing the Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour, writer/director Jamie King and his collaborators at Cirque du Soleil are itching to get the production under way on Oct. 2 in Montreal. And the Jackson estate -- which authorized and partnered in the project -- is making more plans for the late star for 2012.
"It's an ambitious show," King, who was part of Jackson's Dangerous World Tour in 1992 and has also worked with Madonna, Prince, Rihanna, Celine Dion, Britney Spears, the Spice Girls and others, tells Billboard.com. "Everything about this project has felt large. Being around (Jackson), he always wanted everything larger, bigger -- more confetti, more pyro, more magic. He wanted fans to feel like they were getting the best experience ever, so we started with that and moved forward.
Cirque du Soleil: See Show Sketches of IMMORTAL Show
"With every aspect of this show we've pushed the envelope -- costumes, music, going above and beyond what Michael was as a star and really putting it on steroids, taking it to the next level."
King is loathe to reveal too many details about The Immortal World Tour, which incorporated 10 choreographers and a live band led by longtime Jackson keyboardist Gregg Phillinganes that will perform more than 60 songs from Jackson's catalog -- backing the late singer's recorded vocals.
"It was important to have a live band; Michael always had a live band in his show," King notes. "You can imagine what it feels like to have people who actually played music with Michael there, playing it again."
King says he directed musical designer Kevin Antunes to be as inventive as possible with arrangements and mash-ups -- not unlike Cirque du Soleil treatments of the Beatles' catalog in the LOVE show or the Elvis Presley repertoire for Viva Elvis. "Definitely all the hits that the fans want to hear are there," King promises. " 'Beat It,' Thriller,' 'Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' ' -- the big, iconic songs are there, with some other songs mixed and matched throughout. There's some younger Michael in there as well, 'Ben,' the Motown stuff...It's a mixed bag of tricks in terms of songs. It's a music-driven show, so we're making sure the music is the narrative that drives us and takes us on the journey."
A soundtrack album from The Immortal World Tour is tentatively slated to be released by year's end.
King says the production is "overall really just a celebration of the man," and he says he took into account fan reactions and suggestions that came after the show was announced in November of 2010. "How they remember Michael has been a good jumping off point," he explains. "A big thing was they wanted to make sure Michael's iconic choreography is a big part of the show, and certainly in collaboration with Cirque...we've taken that to the next level as well. If there's something you'd typically see on the stage floor, they ask, 'Can we put that in the air? Can we fly that performer doing the same type of choreography?' They really provide the magic."
Unlike the upcoming Jackson tribute concert his family is presenting Oct. 8 in Wales, The Immortal World Tour is an authorized partnership with the Estate of Michael Jackson. Attorney Howard Weitzman says he and other estate officials -- including executors John Branca and John McClain -- have kept "really close tabs" on the production during development and rehearsals and have been satisfied with what they've seen so far.
"I think the estate would like the show to be a celebration of Michael's creativity, his legacy and his music and wants it to be an everlasting tribute to Michael's art and his genius," Weitzman explains. "Michael was a big fan of Cirque du Soleil. It's a great marriage." He adds that Cirque and the estate "jointly participated in the selection of the music. They then took those songs...and blew it up into a spectacular presentation."
The Immortal World Tour will visit 60 North American cities before wrapping up in early July in Chicago. The production will then take up residency at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
Weitzman says that in addition to the Cirque show, the Jackson estate is contemplating several other projects. The 25th anniversary of the "Bad" album in 2012 may be commemorated with a special package similar to 2008's "Thriller 25," while another set of unreleased material to follow 2010's "Michael" collection is also being considered. "It's a pretty vibrant estate in the sense that it continues to generate not just catalog opportunities but plenty of other ideas," Weitzman says.
As for the tribute concert, which is slated to feature performances by the Black Eyed Peas, Christina Aguilera, Leona Lewis, Ne-Yo and Cee Lo Green, Weitzman says the estate is "kind of watching it like everybody else. They've never really had any discussions with us, so we're just watching it all go by."