It was clear even before Friday night’s performance of Michael Jackson’s Cirque Du Soleil spectacular, The IMMORTAL World Tour (playing three nights at LA’s Staples Center) began that this would be a night dedicated to celebrating the glory of Michael’s legacy: we saw so many little kids in fedoras moonwalking in the lobby to even count. And Jackson’s presence, whether seen on screen as a little boy or in footage from his legendary videos, consistently drew an ecstatic response from the crowd. As a memorial to the King Of Pop, the show totally worked; as a Cirque Du Soleil show, it came up pretty flat.
There were a few memorable sequences that stood out. Dancers stuffed inside a giant diamond glove and pair of loafers (with white socks!) was a fun, creative way to play with MJ’s iconic accessories. The “Dancing Machine” segment took a step away from referencing Jackson and instead turned its performers into abstract grooving machinery. And the high-flying “Human Nature” performance was particularly beautiful: aerialists flew high above the stage in the dark, with only the color-changing blinking lights on their full body suits illuminated.
But ultimately, I was baffled at the lack of ambition typically found in Cirque Du Soleil’s shows. Many segments relied heavily on dancing (in most cases, recreating Jackson’s iconic choreography) and neglected to evolve into something extraordinary. The numbers for “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal” became nothing more than just a dance revue with trapeze artists haphazardly thrown in, with no surprising, fantastical element added. “I’ll Be There” mostly consisted of the cast stepping left to right while holding glowing hearts. There was no “wow” factor or the feeling of being blown away by what you’re watching.
Other issues I couldn’t help but feel annoyed by: Bubbles the chimp, Michael’s primate friend, makes an appearance early on, and continues to pop up, at one point as a DJ. (What?!) The costume design for “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” made the performers look like dancing sea monkeys. Segments often start and end abruptly, without flowing into the next. And you’d think a hit as big as ”Billie Jean” would warrant its own number; instead, the song was trapped inside a mash-up that included “Can You Feel It”, “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”, and “Black Or White”. (And though the LED-light adorned tracksuits are visually stimulating, when did MJ ever wear a tracksuit?)
IMMORTAL is a must-see for die-hard fans of the pop star, since its main reason for existing appears to be to tribute his legacy. But if your main desire is the unparalleled spectacle of a Cirque Du Soleil show, take a trip to Vegas and see The Beatles’ Love, or any number of the Canadian troupe’s other shows on the strip. There’s more mesmerizing productions out there.
Whether or not you’re blown away or disappointed by the “cirque” part of the show, the experience is entirely worth it just to hear Michael’s voice fill a stadium. It’s one thing to listen to the King of Pop’s songs on your iPod or in your car. But, oh, how glorious it was to hear his studio recordings played on such an incredible sound system. It was like he was there in person. I suppose this show is the next best thing.