LAS VEGAS – Cirque du Soleil wants to recreate Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in Sin City.
The Mandalay Bay hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip plans to open a sprawling entertainment complex that includes a Jackson-themed lounge, an interactive memorabilia museum and a theater designed to replicate the iconic refuge of the deceased musical legend, Cirque du Soleil president Daniel Lamarre said Wednesday.
“This place, Mandalay Bay, is going to become the home of Michael Jackson in many, many ways,” he said at an announcement at the casino attended by Jackson’s older brother, Jackie.
John Branca, co-executor of Michael Jackson’s estate, said the attraction will offer fans a permanent place to celebrate, as well as give them the opportunity to see some of the objects displayed at Neverland Ranch.
“Very few fans would ever get to visit Michael’s Neverland Ranch because of its remote location,” he said.
Plans for the Las Vegas lodestone, set to open in 2013, are part of the budding business relationship between the acrobatic troupe and the pop star’s estate.
Cirque du Soleil’s homage to Jackson kicks off in October, with the most expensive show in the French company’s history. The $57 million “Michael Jackson, The Immortal World Tour” will open in Montreal and hit 30 cities including New York, Miami, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
The tour’s Las Vegas stop at Mandalay Bay will kick off with a fan convention in December as a preview to the permanent Jackson attraction.
Concept art for the touring show’s set prominently features a massive tree symbolic of a favorite oak that was outside Jackson’s Neverland bedroom. The singer nicknamed it the Giving Tree and had a perch built atop it where he wrote music and sometimes slept.
For Jackson’s “Thriller,” tombstones overwhelm the set in a nod to the music video’s horror-film motif and gyrating zombies.
Excerpts from Jackson’s music videos will be part of the 90-minute show, with no specific performer representing Jackson. “Immortal” will also feature as-yet-unreleased songs that Jackson finished before his death in 2009.
The tour then goes to Europe, Lamarre said, while Cirque producers open a more intimate, theatrical show at the new Las Vegas theater.
Jackson’s estate and Cirque will each own 50 percent of both projects and share equally in the cost of putting on the productions.
Tour director Jamie King said he searched for acrobats, dancers and musicians from across the world who could capture Jackson’s spirit and showmanship.
“I feel like I am not doing it alone, I feel like I am doing it with Michael as my co-director all the way,” said King, who has directed concert tours for Madonna, Rihanna and Celine Dion and is a former Jackson back-up dancer.
Jackson admired the Canadian troupe’s work and attended Cirque shows in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. His support, Lamarre said, helped build the company.
Cirque du Soleil has since become as ubiquitous on the Las Vegas Strip as all-you-can-eat buffets or buzzing slot machines, with shows in recent years honoring Elvis Presley, Celine Dion and the Beatles.
Mandalay Bay, long home to Disney’s The Lion King musical, has never hosted a Cirque show before.
Mandalay Bay President Chuck Bowling said the Jackson attraction will strengthen the casino’s financial health in future years.
The theatrical performance will take over The Lion King stage when that show closes in December, and some venues in the casino will have to be relocated to accommodate the mega attraction. Lamarre said the changes will be permanent.
“The tradition here is our shows last forever,” he said.