Jan. 11--LAS VEGAS -- Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, has been reincarnated in Cirque du Soleil's latest mind-bending spectacle "The Immortal," which moonwalks into the Bay Area this week.
The legend of Michael Jackson is reborn in this beyond-glitzy two-hour megamix of pop anthems, gravity-defying acrobatics and high-flash special effects. From Jackson's pet chimp Bubbles to the gates of Neverland, the iconography of the pop star is traced in an explosion of eye candy that careens from the dreamy to the bizarre. (Did we mention the mime, the scantily clad cellist or the pole dancer?) At the center of the outrageousness is Jackson's voice, beckoning from beyond the grave as images of his classic music videos, from "Thriller" to "Beat It," dance before our eyes on massive LED screens.
"We wanted to get inside of Michael's head and experience the world through his eyes," says writer-director Jamie King, who was keenly aware that since the show's star is no longer with us, his presence had to be channeled in every way possible. "We want the fans to feel connected to him, to feel his presence onstage."
The French Canadian entertainment empire has long had an affinity for pop music gods. Of the eight Cirque extravaganzas playing in Vegas today, two spin around rock stars. There's the Elvis show "Viva Elvis" and the Beatles mashup "Love" in addition to "Immortal," which holds court Friday through Sunday at San Jose's HP Pavilion
and Tuesday and Wednesday at Oakland's Oracle Arena.
For the record, Jackson was a huge Cirque fan, which is one reason members of the Jackson family have embraced the production as a sort of arena-style memorial to their fallen family member.
"It brings back memories," says bowler-clad Tito Jackson, who attended the show's Las Vegas premiere amid a buzzing hive of paparazzi, fans and Jacko impersonators.
'Gone Too Soon' always makes me tear up," agrees brother Jackie sadly. "He was gone too soon."
The exuberant King first met Jackson when he was a young dancer cutting his teeth on the 1992 Dangerous tour. He went on to become a big-name director on the rock concert circuit working with celebs such as Rihanna and Madonna. He says that he has been inspired by the King of Pop ever since.
"How did Michael Jackson influence show business? What didn't he influence? He changed everything," King says. "Everyone I know has been influenced by Michael Jackson in some way, shape or form. A lot of people, not only me, do what we do, we perform, we create because of Michael."
From the advent of music videos to the marriage of fashion and pop music, Jackson was indeed a groundbreaker.
"You see Michael's influence everywhere," says costume designer Zaldy Goco, standing amid endless rows of LED-light-studded body suits backstage. "You are always paying homage to him in one way or another even if you don't realize it. He had that kind of influence."
The almost $60 million two-hour production, which bops from the early Jackson Five days to the era of "Smooth Criminal" and back, is more than just another gig for many in the creative team. They see it as a way of saying goodbye to a cherished force in their lives.
"I had to look deep inside and remember everything that Michael did over the years," says choreographer Travis Payne, a longtime collaborator with the Gloved One. "The canon of movement is so vast, you can't hope to capture all of it, so we tried to give it a fresh perspective."
For example, the mime in the show, an odd fellow clad all in white, is both a symbol of Jackson and a reminder that the signature moonwalk move has its origins in the world of mime. The element that binds all these images together is that unmistakable voice.
"He was truly a master of vocals," says the show's musical designer, Kevin Antunes. "I want the fans to experience listening to Michael even though there is a lot of screaming and chanting and 'I love you Michael,' so we have to work hard to make sure Michael's voice is heard."
For the record, "Immortal" celebrates the Jackson song and dance catalog but also tries to invoke the singer's legacy as a humanitarian. While some consider the singer's reputation besmirched by allegations of child molestation, drug abuse and radical cosmetic surgery, true fans refer to him as a prophet for social change.
"He was more than just a performer -- he was a humanitarian," Tito says. "And that part of his life was most important for me, because he really cared about our world and our society and feeding hunger and making this world a better place. I would like for him to be remembered in those aspects as well as his music."
Watching the project come to fruition brings many fans and family members to tears.
"Seeing how many people love my brother makes me feel good," Tito says. "It makes me feel like he is still alive."
'Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour'
Presented by Cirque du Soleil
When: Friday through Sunday at San Jose's HP Pavilion, Tuesday and Wednesday at Oakland's Oracle Arena Tickets: $50-$250, 800-745-3000, www.cirquedusoleil.com/michaeljackson
(c)2012 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
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