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Michael Jackson’s ‘Immortal’ a dizzying, overstuffed spectacle

This Cirque show didn't forget anyone, even Bubbles the chimp. Photos: OSA Images

This Cirque show didn't forget anyone, even Bubbles the chimp. Photos: OSA Images

Trying to please all Michael Jackson fans is like trying to please an Italian mother – it’s never gonna happen.

But Cirque du Soleil pulls out every trick in its overstuffed arsenal with “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour,” a flashy valentine to the singer that is 40 percent Broadway razzle-dazzle, 40 percent arena concert and only 20 percent typical Cirque.

Because the show is structured so differently and playing in cavernous arenas rather than the intimate customized theaters of Cirque’s other music-based shows (The Beatles’ “Love,” easily the best show in the Cirque canon and the limp “Viva Elvis,” mercifully being put out of its misery soon), “Immortal” often gets lost in its own grandiosity.

With a cast of more than 200 and a song list of about 25 tunes (some done medley-style), there is always something (dizzying) going on, usually by the immensely talented troupe of dancers and acrobats.

The show, which plays Philips Arena through Sunday, is a multimedia feast, with six ginormous flat screens – some that lean as effortlessly as the dancers in “Smooth Criminal” – a massive riser for the 12-piece band (including one-time Atlantan Mike Phillips on sax) and a catwalk, dotted with LED screens, that sees much of the action.

There is no real timeline or linear story told during “Immortal,” which begins and ends with the gilded gates of Neverland, because the creative focus is about showcasing Jackson the man as much as Jackson the performer. Those identifying traits – his dedication to nature, his humanitarianism, his quest for peace – are better represented in the superior second part of the two-hour show (including a 20-minute intermission).

A desire to present fans with more than the usual pat rotation of Jackson’s Top 40 hits meant the inclusion of lesser-known songs such as “This Place Hotel,” “Is It Scary” and “Threatened.” The songs might have been fun to choreograph, but their presence only bogged down the first act.

“This Place Hotel” featured Bob Fosse-like choreography – some dancers even scaled moving lamp posts – but as soon as you noticed the male dancers’ outfits of suspenders and black fedoras, you knew “Smooth Criminal” wasn’t far off…and hoped it would arrive soon.

A contortionist rose from the pages of a giant book of ghost stories in “Is It Scary,” while a team of “bats” – dancers clad like insect Dick Tracys – bobbed through “Threatened.”

Yes, they looked cool, but it’s hard to get excited about songs you don’t care about.

Any men in the crowd who might have been bored woke up when Felix Cane took to her pole.

Any men in the crowd who might have been bored woke up when Felix Cane took to her pole.

The highlights of the first hour came with the silly-fun Fanatics, a group of Jackson 5 impersonators who looked more like the Fat Albert crew, lip-syncing through “I Want You Back,” “ABC” and “The Love You Save”; the literal sparks that flew from the heels of the “Smooth Criminal” dancers during the famous lean; a jaw-dropping pole-dancing performance from Felix Cane (don’t think that didn’t wake up the men in the nearly sold-out crowd); and the lovely routine from four aerialists in blinking costumes for the sublime “Human Nature.”

Oddly, despite the presence of mummies, grave stones and the iconic moves from the epic video, “Thriller,” which closed the first part of the show, underwhelmed. Except for the presence of one-legged dancer Jean Sok, a true marvel every time he graced the stage.

During act two, the inspired mind of Atlantan Travis Payne, who worked with Jackson since 1991 and handled the choreography for “Immortal,” thrust into hyperdrive.

The snoring sequined glove and massive dancing loafers during “Beat It” were a trip, while the marching futuristic military troupe that steered “They Don’t Care About Us” provided one of the show’s most visually arresting and thought-provoking moments.

Though it required nothing more than an old black-and-white video and a fluttering curtain as the projection surface, “I’ll Be There” was one of the few times you felt truly connected to Jackson and not as if you were merely watching a glitzy overview of his life. Hearing his little boy voice and seeing his innocent smile immediately caused goosebumps – and a bit of sadness.

But a Cirque show isn’t going to let an audience wallow – especially if you have the energetic catalog of Jackson from which to draw. Cue the “megamix” of “Can You Feel It,” “Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough,” “Billie Jean” and “Black or White,” which kicked off with Mike Phillips front and center, prompting the crowd to dance.

Cool shoes.

Cool shoes.

With the acrobatic – and somewhat creepy – Bubbles the chimp (Terrance Harrison) overlooking the proceedings from a contraption in the ceiling, a team of elastic dancers in varied-colored jumpsuits boogied at the foot of the catwalk. Don’t duck out early before “Billie Jean” or you’ll miss one of the more memorable costume moments.

After rocking for a bit, the show lulled the crowd with “Man in the Mirror.” Jackson’s anthem of self-reflection was a subdued ending, but yet somehow a fitting way to exit this flamboyant homage.

If you go

“Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil”

8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday. $50-$175. Philips Arena, One Philips Drive, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, http://www.ticketmaster.com/.

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By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene

33 comments Add your comment

Johnny

June 30th, 2012
3:54 am

So this was written by a Beatles fan. This show rocks much better than the Beatles Love and is much more up to date. This reviewer totally overlooks the talent of the performers, they are awesome. Most of the live musicians worked with Jackson. I saw it in Raliegh and the audience was great it was a great live show and the largest grossing touring show. Jackson fans know he always ended his concerts with Man In the Mirror. Great show go and enjoy it.

Old School Girl

June 30th, 2012
7:40 am

The show was interesting. Judge for yourself and not base your opinion on reviewers. Some parts were better than others, but once again, judge for your self.

Just a warning, IF you purchased tickets over 15 months ago when the tickets were initially released, your seats have be reassigned. You will probably be moved to seats on the floor. I personally did not like the seats because I wanted to have full view, so I paid top dollar for my tickets. Therefore my personal opinion of the show went down, because I could not fully experience the show because of limited view.

dee

June 30th, 2012
8:51 am

Only a TRUE Michael Jackson fan would enjoy the show…I was there last night…absolutely amazing!!!…P.S. If you plan to go, please, please arrive ON-TIME…it was ridiculous to see the number of people who paid that kind of money for tickets and arrived up to an hour late, standing in the idles, and obstructing the view of those who arrived well before the show.

Kimi

June 30th, 2012
9:32 am

Hmm … it’s obvious this reviewer only knows MJ’s top 40 hits (probably as a solo artist) and not much more. “This Place Hotel” was a big hit for The Jacksons, and I was pleasantly surprised that Cirque included so many songs from The Jacksons catalogue. I do believe Johnny is right that MJ ended his shows with Man in the Mirror so folks leave in a reflective thoughtful mode. I thought it was a perfect ending, albeit sad given the fact that MJ’s gone.

Anyway, this show was excellent. There is a lot going on, I’ll give the reviewer that, but it didn’t make the show any less fantastic. Watching really made me miss MJ all over again. Anybody who considers themselves an MJ fan should experience this show.

Also, I received my tickets as a gift over two years ago and they didn’t change my seats thankfully, sat in Section 111 in stadium seating and that was a perfect location, could see everything wasn’t too high up in the rafters or on the floor constantly having to adjust to the person sitting in front of me.

Definitely go see Michael Jackson’s Cirque and judge for yourself, I doubt you’ll be sorry.

mjjjusticeproject

June 30th, 2012
10:01 am

Michael Jackson IMMORTAL has recenly hit a milestone by selling over 1.5 MILLION tickets in N America and is beginnings its European stint. Obviously, this review is reflective of the limited knowledge of the author. John Branca related a story about how much Michael loved Circe Soleil and the majority of MJ fans understand that special connection which makes the experience even more enjoyable. I was lucky enough to see this spectacular show in LosAngeles and would go again in a heartbeat .. It is predicted to break all attendance records for years to come which is only fitting for the KING OF POP. as it was his practice to strive to surpass all other entertianers in his lifetime. He also broke Guinness World Records in charitable giving which the media always downplayed because it never quite fit into thei skewed caricature they wish to portray. Michael Jackson’s truth and true legacy is being told daily by people that knew him personally and the landscape of the MJ saga is ever so slowly changing – .” Like the sun and moon, truth will not long be obscured.”

Coral - One of MJ's most LOYAL/TRUE Fan

June 30th, 2012
11:06 am

Atlanta- Didnt meet my HIGH expectations on few productions issues but a MUST SEE SHOW NONETHELESS! I went to the show last night with my sister, I purchased tickets 2yrs ago and had them on hold. I was dissappointed by the way the ARENA was redesighned. Placing many of US in different locations as originaly shown. The show itself was a CAPTIVATING ENERGIZED SHOWCASE of MJ! (NOTE: IF you are a person who simply did not like THE KING OF POP, his music, the art of EXTREME TALENTED dancers, CONCERT production with a few UNBELIEVABLE acrobatical moments…this is not the show for you to attend!) Jackson 5 timeline in first half “AWESOME” “They dont care about us, Scream” moment TRULY POWERFUL. “Dangerous” SIMPLY AMAZING, and “Can you Feel it, Billie Jean, Beat it,Jam and more..” Mega mix in second half TOTAL DANCE PARTY…LOVED IT! Closing: “Ill be there” medley for us fans:TEARFEST,IMPACTING,CELEBRATION. “Man in the MIrror” always his closing song for his own concerts and a VERY DIGNIFIED AND RESPECTED WAY to end the show!! Few criterias that didnt meet my HIGH Standards: Arena reassigning seat changes,WIDER and BIGGER Flat Screens and Projection Boards was needed for this arena size show, More arial acrobatics to span the arena. Very few parts in beginning had too much going on and others little. Representation of Bubbles/Chimp and GLOVE/SHOES TAKE THAT OUT OF SHOW!! ITS SIMPLY CORNY! (NOTE TO ALL MJ TRUE FANS out there: Have some tissues on hand…as you will be needing them…trust me on that!) May you be resting in peace and we will always be here for you MJ!

P

June 30th, 2012
12:13 pm

I love Michael Jackson, but I thought this show was terrible. If you are into song and dance routines 90% of the show…by all means go. Just wasn’t my thing.

JL

June 30th, 2012
12:53 pm

Am considering buying some last-minute discounted tickets for Sunday’s Atlanta show in Section 302, but want to know if you can see from the nosebleed seats … need some feedback from those who attended earlier shows!

Carla Marie

June 30th, 2012
1:50 pm

JL, get your tix. section 302 may be nosebleed but a lot of the show happens up high…..GO SEE IT! its your chance while its touring! i loved it!

Aj

June 30th, 2012
1:56 pm

Enter your comments here

Aj

June 30th, 2012
2:00 pm

I sat in section 409 nose bleed and I saw every detail. BTW ” This Place Hotel ” was one of my favorite performances. Excellent show would see it again tonight

Michigander

June 30th, 2012
2:06 pm

Does anyone recognize the song “Heartbreak Hotel” with the weird title “This Place Hotel.” ( I remember some issue with Epic records execs thinking consumers would think it was an Elvis cover). Indeed, that song was a HUGE hit for the Jacksons (Triumph) and I’m glad Cirque included it. It worked really well with “Smooth Criminal,” “Dangerous” and those snippets of “Keep it in the Closet.” Loved the show.

La La

June 30th, 2012
3:11 pm

Well, I love MJ, I love singing and dancing routines and I thought the show was ok. This cirq performance did not grab me and make me lose myself in the experience or feel the presence of Michael Jackson and his aura until the second half. Worth seeing, yes – fabulous performers, yes -a few misses, yes. With that said – I say listen to the reviewer – she gave props where the props were due and based on the majprity of the audience around me, captured thier reaction as well.

Aj

June 30th, 2012
4:24 pm

To me the concern was not with Cirque du Soleil ’s magnetic performance during the first or second half. Anyone noticed the crowd seemed off putting looking to be entertained or trying to figure out what was going on? I have been to concerts at Phillips Arena and before the artist appears the crowd is chanting their name. Not to mention when the first note plays everyone is on their feet dancing and singing. This didn’t happen last night. I think at intermission people ran for the beers and the alcohol kicked in during the second half. Honestly I felt like I was at a Tim McGraw concert than a MJ tribute. The audience needs to come hyped.

Old School Girl

June 30th, 2012
6:44 pm

All of the comments expressed here, both positive as well as negative, I too experienced last evening. However I encourge those that can to go, to do so. Bask in the catalogue of memories and music that Michael Jackson left for all of us, an endless gift that just keeps on giving…like he did.
Enjoy!

Sara

June 30th, 2012
7:36 pm

I agree mainly with Johnny. Also, the show does move fast and covers a lot of ground so you do have to keep up so you won’t be dizzying. I was very happy that the show included some of Jackson’s lesser know songs. My husband, son and his girlfriend, kept whispering “That’s Michael Jackson?”. Then when the played a few (sadly just a few) bars of “State of Shock” my husband recognized it right away as the song Mick Jagger and Tina Turner did at Live Aid, but he had no idea Jackson wrote it. It’s sad that some people go expecting to feel Jackson’s aura he is gone and I don’t think we’ll ever feel that again. I am so glad I saw him live on the Bad tour. This is a great show see it you won’t be sorry.

sam

June 30th, 2012
10:38 pm

The show is AMAZING and yeah WE go for sure, it is the #1 show – not by chance, It is an awesome, wonderful Tribute to the best of all time, Michael Jackson.

Linda

June 30th, 2012
10:57 pm

I saw Immortal in Dayton,Ohio at the Nutter Center. It was amazing and I wish I could see it again. Go see it if you get the chance. If you don’t you’ve really missed something wonderful.

Carmuel

June 30th, 2012
11:47 pm

If you want real crowd reaction you need two things….London crowds (Wembley Stadium) and Michael Jackson himself. Watch the DVD in Sep.

This is ho-hum atlanta…ofcourse it is boring. Also, we must remember the crowd has suit wearing Cirque Du Soleil fans who are quiet.

Can’t believe the Friday crowd was quiet…coz I am assume hardcore fans bought the opening tickets.

Maestra

July 1st, 2012
1:35 am

Have to say for those who don’t know, this concert is as close to “This Is It”–the concert to END all concerts as we’re ever going to get now that Michael is gone. Michael loved Cirque and they do their best to show it in this production but how to produce Michael when there he’s no longer here? That’s the rub, folks. And quite frankly, I’m eternally grateful that Jamie King decided to avoid the obvious choice of having someone designated as Michael in the show–a move that would’ve turned any true Michael fan off for sure.
As for this article, I’m always glad to see anything positive in the news about Michael, but geesh, can we PLEASE get someone who knows Michael beyond the J-5 and “Thriller” eras? How any self-respecting reporter can attempt to actually write an article without knowing their subject is beyond me! “Is it Scary”, “Threatened”, and “This place hotel” are not songs that inspire yawns, they’re all driving, pulsating and well…threatening to say the least the way Michael attacks them. Anyone who doesn’t know these songs are in his catalog are probably not true supporters of Michael’s work.
As for the whole “Bubbles” thing, I admit that it doesn’t rub me the right way. I think it’s the position he has in those segments. And maybe if they had made him more of a puppet? And I don’t care for the shoes, but like the glove thing. I think those elements were an attempt to show a lighter, care free side of Michael, right before the storm.
Thing is, even though I love this show, I’m craving more of a story line for Michael and Jamie (the Director) is saying that’s exactly what he’s doing for the residency show at Mandalay Bay in Vegas. It won’t be the same as this touring show, it’s gonna be more of a theatrical production so maybe they’ll fully expand on the original idea of using “The Giving Tree” in Neverland to show all sides of Michael….
BTW–AJ, I totally agree with you. Any show of this calibre about Michael is worthy of chanting, screaming and the works like you experienced in his stadium shows. But alas, this is ATL and these folks wouldn’t get worked up if you PAID them to. After Michael’s death when the rest of the world had vigils, tributes and such, what was Atlanta doing? Nothing, nada, zip. One of the many reasons why I didn’t wait to see the show here because I knew it would be anticlimatic….
And they call this the Music Center of the South? Hee hee he-ee….

GAPeach

July 1st, 2012
1:10 pm

The one thing I felt was missing was what MJ embodied – and that is SOUL. Unfortunately, there was little soul in this show, which I think is truly made it LACK the “spirit” of MJ. Yes I am one of those people who had a high expectation for the show. This is Atlanta – home to some of the best dancers, performers, hot producers, but if the show had a smidgen of soul and MJ-worthy dancers, it would have been more worthwhile. Aside from the mime guy and the pole dancer, the dance moves were more kiddy and light-weight, than adult.

I don’t agree that it was a good idea to not include an impersonator. I’m sure the producer had a slew of reason for not doing such and I’m not mad for that. I know Michael is gone and we can’t bring him back. But maybe the impersonator would have brought some soul and have given people what they really came for – to feel the spirit of MJ!

SWAT Native

July 1st, 2012
9:29 pm

I wasn’t a big Michael Jackson fan before, but I really wanted to see this show. I saw it this afternoon. I thought it was AMAZING. There were so many things going on, it was hard to catch everything. You almost need to see it more than once.

I kept thinking, “Michael would have loved this show”. I knrw all the songs, but i have a much greater appreciation for his music now. Very well done.

Daschund

July 1st, 2012
10:38 pm

Just saw the show.I think this show need a bigger stage to handle the hundreds of performers. They need a stage that goes into the public like U2 360?

I liked the show, and can’t wait for the DVD or Blu-ray.

Sharlyn

July 1st, 2012
10:57 pm

I went with my husband, who is a skeptic by nature, on opening night, and we both LOVED the show! I suppose it did have a lot going on and it was loud, but what else would one expect with a show celebrating the life of the King of Pop? Come on! And I knew every single song that was performed, as I’m sure the TRUE MJ fans all did.The bit that brought tears to my eyes was the end of ‘Will You Be There’ when MJ appears vapor-like on the screen as he recites the final lyrics and then ‘ascends’. Goosebumps. I really wish I could see it again. I think Michael would have been proud of this production. Congratulations to the entire team!

Oh, and for the person who mentioned that MJ wrote the song ‘State of Shock; he also performs it with Mick Jagger on the Jackson’s Victory album. I used to have that song on heavy rotation as a teen. So glad they included it in the show.:-)

USC TROJANS FAN

July 2nd, 2012
9:40 am

IM SO SICK OF MICHAEL JACKSON…

Gail

July 2nd, 2012
6:32 pm

I thought the show was really awful. What a waste of $200.

Kevin

July 3rd, 2012
3:10 pm

USC Trojan’s Fan — weird article for you to read and comment on if that is the case. Clearly it is not. Nice try for a really negative reaction though!

Maestra

July 3rd, 2012
11:43 pm

@GA Peach– Perfect name. First, let me say every man/woman to their own taste. HOWEVER, did you actually see the same show as the rest of us? MY comments notwithstanding, the show was a great attempt to honor THE Greatest Entertainer who ever lived. Yes, it fell a bit short in the “soul” department, but how many concerts have you been to in an ARENA, that was able to pull that off? I’ve only seen Michael and maybe a few other artists do that in my lifetime–which is saying a lot.
You mentioned the high calibre dancers and performers of ATL…WHAT? WHERE? WHEN? Atlanta consistently lives in a STATE OF DELUSION when it comes to this. I suppose this mentality can be credites for the latest version of “Love and Hip Hop” which is a HUGE SNOOZE compared to it’s NYC predecessor. Remember, I live here too and most of the Entertainment Industry here is smoke and Mirrors. I will say there’s a higher calibre of singers and Producers in ATL, but neither have a thing to do with this show since Michael’s recordings were the source of all leads, and you can’t get better producers than the ones for Cirque. Thing is, I have to reiterate this was an ARENA, with only ONE focus, not the “HIPHOPALOOZA” led by Lil’ Wayne or the Essence Festival. And anyway, it’s easy to show “soul” or intimacy in those shows since most of the venues never get any larger than the Fox. C’mon now!
As for the Impersonator, any TRUE Michael Supporter worth their salt would NEVER want to see that. Besides, when developing the show, Jamie King (Director) did a lot of research on what the fanbase wanted to see much the way Michael did for his Tour. Some fans even got to review the show with family members before it’s Premiere which is probably why some ideas didn’t make it. I’ve followed Michael for over 40 yrs. so I’m pretty clear on what most fans feel regarding a show about him. Let me repeat for Reading Impaired: THERE WAS ONLY ONE MICHAEL, all pretenders need not apply. I’m not trying to knock their hustle, but on a show of this calibre, backed by his Estate, take my word for it, never gonna happen….
As for the Mime, we don’t see eye to eye there either as I thought the only element/performance weaker than him was “Bubbles the Chimp”. Talk about “lack of soul” that was his main damage, he just wasn’t believable in that role. Think about it, no singing, dancing, lights, pyro or whatever could’ve made the same difference this mime role could’ve since it was a man playing the part. Other than the fact that he moved pretty well, he had nothing else to offer, and all I could hear around me every time he appeared onstage (which was WAY too often for me) was “Who is that?”, or “What is he doing?”. I’m sure they had him there to portray Michael’s spirit being that he was a Black man, all in white with a white face paint, but he just wasn’t cutting it and I hope they don’t include that character in the residency show or I will NOT be seeing it. Yes, it was that much of a dud imo and got in the way of the show…
Bottom line, people should definitely see the show simply because it’s the best celebration of Michael’s life to date, even if it does have some flaws. It’s the best Cirque show I’ve seen and the No. 1 Music Tour of the year, to boot.
BTW–of course, you lauded the pole dancer/aerialist as did most of the ATL audience–a point that would’ve been expected had this been a show about Hugh Hefner. That just speaks VOLUMES about this town, it just does….

Linda

July 4th, 2012
12:31 am

The mime represents the fact that Michael is a great admirer of Marcel Marceau,who Michael met in 1995. Anyone who watches Michael dance will see the influence.

Maestra

July 4th, 2012
10:48 pm

Linda, who are you telling this, yourself? Anyone who joined Michae’s bandwagonl by the “Thriller” era would know that….don’t get me started, folks. My point was that he was supposed to rep the SPIRIT of Michael which includes WAY more than the Marceau influence. Besides, he didn’t even come close to doing Marceau any justice. If he saw that guy’s performance he’d be rolling in his grave–WEAK, is an understatement….
Anything that’s included in a show about Michael will probably be hard-pressed to hit the mark. I know that. But what I would expect is that if something is as weak as that Mime, Bubbles, and the loafers, they need to remove it and go back to the drawing board…..

MJFAN

July 5th, 2012
10:24 am

GREAT AMAZING TRIBUTE TO MICHAEL JACKSON – THE BEST!

Adam

July 6th, 2012
9:28 am

Maestra you’re getting yourself way to worked up over this show. Just like any live show there were strong points and weak points. Mainly though it seems the director wanted to cover all parts of MJs professional years; Jackson was going to have a pole dancer in the concert “This Is It” she was going to be on bed posts instead of a “regular” pole, but nevertheless she was going to be there. The author was certainly correct in her statement that “you can’t please everyone”. My advice to Jackson fans is chill out and enjoy what you can or what you will – there’s lots to enjoy.

Maestra

July 6th, 2012
10:29 pm

@ Adam–again, who are you telling this to? You don’t even have to be a fan/supporter to know that Michael planned to have a Pole dancer/aerialist in his performance of “Dirty Diana” on the “This Is It” Tour. They had a whole segment on it in the Film and DVD. For the record, my comment was not against the aerialist, but the fact that it seemed to be the only positive in that bloggers experience of the show which is sad, imo. I think Cain did an excellent job in her performance, I just didn’t think it deserved the hype it got in this article and comments. Again, MY comments are MY opinion and if they don’t work for you, so be it. As you say, “you can’t please everyone” and I wouldn’t want to in most cases….
BTW–your advice to any fan/supporter is about as welcome as a Tea Party campaign speech…no need to spell it out. This country needs to realize that Michael’s fans/supporters have the right to be loyal, bug out, or do whatever they wish in their love for him. If it bothers you, YOU chill and keep it moving. I know that’s a bit hard to take individuality in a city where your identity–what you wear, think and live depends upon what your neighbor/associates do, but if you try hard enough, you too may develop a MIND of your own…deuces….