As time goes on, more and more people have been apt to forget the intense adoration surrounding Michael Jackson and the colossal impact he had, including, but not limited to, his preternaturally electric presence and how he could get a sea of admirers to cry and faint by merely standing on a stage. The word “superstar” is often bandied about, but Jackson – especially in the 1980s and early 1990s – was doubtlessly in an echelon all unto himself, as the “King of Pop,” and the ruler of many hearts and minds who couldn’t get enough of his panache as a pioneer of music and dance.
Written and directed by the talented Jamie King, Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson ONE” — which can be experienced at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, NV — re-stirs the feelings many had and still do about “The Gloved One” up to and following his untimely passing in 2009. A wide-ranging catalog of Jackson’s greatest hits are lavishly put on display, from the performer’s days with The Jackson 5 to his solo coming-out party with “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”
From the start, we are not only glimpsed a preview of the lurid headlines and meddlesome paparazzi that oftentimes surrounded Jackson but are introduced to four idiosyncratic friends who set out to find and discover the essence of what Jackson represented through his trademark personal effects and honest spirit.
As memorably flashy as Jackson’s persona was, the production is even appropriately more so, as it doubles as a laser-and-pyro concert weaved into an amusing plot marked by the physical marvels which characterize Cirque du Soleil. Creation director Welby Altidor is very faithful to the Jackson’s image and the underlying human being who acted as a force of existential expressionism to combat violence, hatred, and oppression in the world. Video (projection designers are Raymond St-Jean and Jimmy Lakatos) and audio archives of Jackson’s poetic words harmoniously co-exist with his invigorating music (musical designer is Kevin Antunes and sound designer is Jonathan Deans) as played through a mind-blowing 5,412 seat speakers.
The multipurpose stage and vivified props (including Jackson’s animated glove) by Francois Séguin, underscored by David Finn’s evocative lighting design and Nathalie Gagné’s Hollywood-caliber makeup, make for an anything-can-happen feel insofar that the audience is left breathless throughout the duration as one transition outstandingly begets another in a series of high-energy events. In addition, the 1,150 costume pieces by Zaldy Goco are as exquisitely ornate as the ones Jackson himself wore, ranging from the red-glowing and camera-flashing paparazzi, who are clad in scandalous digital screens, to swanky pinstriped suits and hats, and tattered zombie wear in “Thriller.”
Suffice it to say, throughout the acrobatically garnished musical sequences, each performer is afforded ample time to shine. For instance, Jackson’s guitarist during the famous “This Is It” rehearsals – Orianthi Panagaris – is honored by a female performer who does the portrayal a fine justice during “Beat It,” as two acrobats simultaneously do full-body revolutions around a bar above the proscenium. Two other individuals who stand out include the “Human Nature” dance soloist, who meshes Jackson’s moon-walking flamboyance with arm-and-shoulder contortion, and the female acrobat during “Dirty Diana,” who acts as the proverbial devil in disguise, increasing the heat ten-fold in the theatre with a searing pole routine requiring an unimaginable core strength.
As a credit to acrobatic performance designers Germain Guillemot and Rob Bollinger, and acrobatic choreographers Ben Potvin, Andrea Ziegler, the ensemble Cirque du Soleil cast is also provided a platform to evince their athletic wares. As such, “Bad” impresses with Olympic-level virtuosos, who not only balance themselves on two yellow elastic bands but do out-of-this-world corkscrew flips, landing exactly on the quasi tight-ropes. Furthermore, “Smooth Criminal” bowls over audience members with its unrelenting aerial hang-time (e.g., synchronous back and front flips), and the famous 45-degree lean. Last, but not least, the amazing accuracy exhibited by hat jugglers during “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” deservingly puts a smile on the faces of the attendees.
The choreography of the dancing, too, is inventive in its moves and impeccable in its execution, so much so that Jackson would have certainly been proud. The urgency driving “They Don’t Really Care About Us” is compelling, the enthusiasm among six couples in “The Way You Make Me Feel” is delightful to watch, and the sight of performers precisely coming into and out of sight (assisted by light-up costumes) during “Billie Jean” earns an approving roar from the audience. And, a culmination of the choreography might very well be witnessing the undead brandish their clawed arms in tandem with each other during “Thriller,” while a trampoline-wall flurry transpires in the background. These segments, and more, triumphantly spotlight Cirque du Soleil’s ever-growing capacity to captivate.
Since its inception, Cirque du Soleil has applaudingly redefined itself beyond its usual parameters. The light-and-shadows spectacle against the lyrical backdrop of “Earth Song” not only has fun with the facets of depth perception offered by the medium but is abundant with a tranquil grace. Where the Montreal-headquartered theatrical company really outdoes itself, however, is in its technological engineering of “Man in the Mirror” by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, which uncannily uses MJ’s projected 3D likeness, who pivots, points, appears, and reappears in clouds of projected gold dust in conjunction with the cast. It is a representation that is as hauntingly beautiful as it is a remembrance of Jackson’s eternal fortitude.
Overall, as rollickingly larger-than-life Jackson’s image and hits were – and continue to be – the man behind the mellifluous growls, grunts, and high falsetto was soft-spoken and demure. Despite the inscrutability that shrouded him, Jackson’s primary wish was perhaps to understand his purpose as one of many on Earth. Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson ONE” is colossally entertaining and yet doesn’t lose track of the icon’s compassion for others and his everlasting hope for a unified populace.
For more information about Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson ONE,” which plays at 7 and 9:30 pm on a nightly basis at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, NV, please visit cirquedusoleil.com/michael-jackson-one or mandalaybay.com/en/entertainment/michael-jackson-one.html