by Liza Mitchell
It’s a production fit for a king. The Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour celebrates the legacy of the King of Pop as only the Cirque du Soleil can. Jackson’s music and signature dance moves are the highlight of this bigger-than-life performance featuring a menagerie of dancers, musicians and acrobats. All come together to deliver homage to the music of Michael Jackson.
Developing a production worthy of such distinction was a collaborative effort between the Cirque team and Jackson’s estate. Cirque du Soleil‘s media director Maxime Charbonneau says that it was essential that Jackson’s family support the endeavor. The creative team worked diligently to protect the integrity of Michael’s music while punctuating the songs with the mesmerizing feats of the Cirque du Soleil artists.
“This show is quite unique, as it was created in partnership with Michael Jackson’s estate. It is the first authorized tribute, so we wanted to make sure we had the right people,” Charbonneau says. “It is more of a pop rock concert than what you’d expect in a Cirque du Soleil show. It’s a massive, massive production. People should come with an open mind.”
Writer and director Jamie King is one of the leading concert directors in the pop music world, having worked with such artists as Pink and Celine Dion. It was under King’s direction that The Immortal World Tour took flight, taking audiences on a virtual journey through Jackson’s vast catalog of hits. Each number conveys Jackson’s universal messages of hope, human rights, equal rights, unity and peace with the stunning dancing and acrobatics of a Cirque du Soleil show.
“The show is powered by Michael’s voice leading the way. It’s very powerful,” Charbonneau says. To create such a fantastic production, the Cirque creative team, including King and music director Kevin Antunes, highly recognized in the industry, traveled to Jackson’s own fairytale world at the Neverland Ranch. It was there that King found solace and inspiration in Jackson’s Giving Tree, one of the most important elements of The Immortal World Tour.
“The Giving Tree is a place where Michael would sit and sleep, and it’s where he wrote some of his most iconic songs,” Charbonneau says. “It was a unique source of inspiration for King to sit in the tree where Michael was sitting and to find his words.”
According to Charbonneau, Antunes was given exclusive access to Jackson’s original recordings at Sony Music and to the Jackson family. Selecting just 35 to 40 songs from Jackson’s lifetime of musical contributions was an arduous task. Antunes carefully stripped away the music to reveal Jackson’s vocals. Elements, including a horn section, were layered in for the show.
“It was quite a challenge,” Charbonneau says. “The music is very good, and we didn’t want to change it too much.”
Choreographer Travis Payne also worked with Jackson in the past, most recently on the never-realized This Is It tour. He helped bring to life such memorable moments in Jackson’s legendary career as the iconic imagery in ‘Thriller’ to the slick styles in ‘Smooth Criminal.’
Charbonneau says that members of the Jackson family, including Michael’s mother, Katherine, his three children, and brothers Tito, Marlon and Jackie attended the opening night of The Immortal World Tour in Montreal. The family was humbled by the performance and overwhelmed by the diversity of the crowd.
“The family was touched by the production and said Michael would have appreciated the way his words and his messages were shared,” Charbonneau says. “His brother, Tito, said he was amazed by the production and said it was the closest way [he’ll] be near his younger brother. For an hour or so, he forgets he’s not here. The only connection they have is through his music.”
For Charbonneau, one of the most poignant moments comes when audiences hear the sound of a nine-year-old Michael Jackson singing ‘I’ll Be There.’ He hopes it will help people remember Michael Jackson as a great singer and a dynamic performer and to cement his place in history as the reigning King of Pop.