by Amy Atkins
On the list of things that could be described as “larger than life,” both American pop star Michael Jackson and Canada-based acrobatic troupe Cirque du Soleil have a place. After witnessing Cirque’s newest and most ambitious offering, Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour, on Jan. 3 at the Taco Bell Arena, the packed house—made up of everyone from toddlers to seniors—wouldn’t argue that Jackson and CDS top that list.
During the nearly two-hour show, an incredibly precise live band—including back-up singers and a woman playing electric cello—sat high above the stage playing mostly remixed and shortened versions of Jackson’s songs, including “Bad,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” “Earth Song,” the Jackson 5 classic “ABC” and Jackson’s duet with sister Janet, “Stop Pressuring Me." All the while, CDS artists performed amid a set that was not only spectacular, but at times improbable.
A section of stage moved in and out of the floor; a full-sized version of the gates to Jackson's Neverland Ranch served as a backdrop for living bronze statues; video montages played on some screens, while performers interacted with videos projected onto a giant diaphanous curtain; and geysers of air and pyrotechnics shot hundreds of feet into the air.
So did performers.
Dressed in everything from body-hugging leotards to zoot suits to robot costumes, the cast of performers climbed, crawled, swung and twisted their bodies in ways that caused the thousands of people in attendance to gasp in disbelief and explode in applause. During a rendition of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” two lithe acrobats dressed in pale, glittering bodysuits used a rope and each other to twirl languorously from ceiling to floor.
While the melodic refrains of “Human Nature” spread over the crowd, a small ensemble of acrobats sat in giant rings hung from on high. As the house went dark, the performer’s suits—embedded with bright multi-colored lights—made it look as though a small flock of glimmering birds were floating around the arena. The crowd also went wild when a group of breakdancers’ track suits lit up in a rainbow and any time a one-legged performer took center stage.
Reviews for this show have remarked on a lack of narrative, but in my opinion, that was ameliorated by one performer dressed head-to-toe in sparkling white—a nod to Jackson’s signature white glove. He appeared in and around most of the numbers, adding a connecting thread to the pieces. Unfortunately, he couldn't save a few of the more saccharine moments, such as when a hot-air balloon delivered him a red heart lit from inside; or when a performer dressed as Jackson’s infamous chimpanzee pal Bubbles capered around the stage on all fours.
But cheesiness aside, the stunning costumes, impeccable performances and iconic music made for an entrancing evening.