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Issue 1084

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The Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour: Philips Arena, Atlanta 29/6/12

THE MICHAEL JACKSON IMMORTAL WORLD TOUR: PHILIPS ARENA, ATLANTA 29/6/12
THE MICHAEL JACKSON IMMORTAL WORLD TOUR: PHILIPS ARENA, ATLANTA 29/6/12 THE MICHAEL JACKSON IMMORTAL WORLD TOUR: PHILIPS ARENA, ATLANTA 29/6/12 THE MICHAEL JACKSON IMMORTAL WORLD TOUR: PHILIPS ARENA, ATLANTA 29/6/12 THE MICHAEL JACKSON IMMORTAL WORLD TOUR: PHILIPS ARENA, ATLANTA 29/6/12

There has never been an entertainer who could make a career out of using his imagination quite like Michael Joseph Jackson (MJJ).

Think about it. Who else is an overachieving megastar -- who has sold over 750 million albums worldwide, a double inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a 13-time Grammy Award recipient, the Guinness Book of World Recordsâ âMost Successful Entertainer of All-Time,â blessed sold out stages globally and epitomized the music video era with cutting edge visual effects, memorable costumes, one-of-a-kind dance sequences and a knack for extending the short clips into award-winning mini-movies â that knew just what it took to break boundaries? Still, the public and the tabloids alike made a mockery of one of entertainmentâs greatest martyrs: commonly referring to him in the headlines as âWacko Jacko.â

Say what anyone will, but critics and cynics may very somewhat have the right assumption about the King of Popâs legacy. In conjunction with the late performerâs estate, the extravagant Cirque du Soleil introduced the incredible two hour rock musical-meets-big top, The Immortal World Tour. The show premiered at Atlantaâs Philips Arena three years and four days after the singerâs death (Fri., Jun. 29, 2012), and what an incredible eulogy this show is! From the point I take my seat 15 minutes prior to showtime (and the show starts promptly at 8:00 p.m.), it almost feels as if I relived a great deal of my 29 years on this planet. I mean, Michael Joseph Jackson is the most popular and influential artist of my generation (his best-selling, history making Thriller album was the number one album here in the U.S. when I was born).

I figure from the start that the evening is set to be primarily musical theatre. Immortal is one of the finest (not to mention fun) posthumous MJJ moments since The Michael Jackson Experience for Nintendo Wii. Much like one of the visuals showing wheels and axles turning, the whole spectacle in itself is a well-oiled machine with smooth song and sequence transitioning. Armed with fedoras and oversized penny loafers, I still get goosebumps thinking about the dancers in the Zaldy Goco-created multicolored suits trimmed in multicolored LED strobe lights all recreating his silhouette. Oh yes, the crisp yet bombastic sounds and arrangements â courtesy of Musical Directors Kevin Antunes and Greg Phillinganes (who provided memorable keyboard melodies on many of MJJâs classics) along with MJJâs go-to drummer Jonathan âSugarfootâ Moffett â ensures the band could precisely project and recreate the 30-song soundtrack delicately placed underneath the singerâs magnetic vocals. Guitarist Desiree Bassett, trumpeter Keyon Harrold, saxophonist Mike Phillips and cellist Tina Guo give great intensity and emotion to the songs with their chosen axe. Hell, if you listen close, you can even hear MJJâs feet stompinâ and finger snappin, too!

Over a tiled 5,300 square foot sloping monitor, Immortal opens with a high definition music video retrospective (think 1988âs Moonwalker minus all of the kaleidoscopic manipulations). MJJ â deemed by his former personal photographer, Todd Gray, as âa great trixsterâ during his Jul. 13 unveiling of The Gray Room, an exhibit featuring the performerâs photo collection at the Hagedorn Foundation Gallery -- was an artist who prided himself on defying possibilities, and Immortal is choked full of groovy allegories, crafty subliminal messages and hyperreal metaphors. I guess the mime (Salah Benlemqawansa) dressed in white (a constant color at that) is MJJâs pixie running wild. Directed by Jamie King and designed by Michael Curry, Immortal unveils into this mesh of MTV on any given night throughout the 1980s, again which MJJ graciously dominated, and a lackadaisical pop up storybook â noticeably a main prop the entire program. Yes, all 9,000 hours it took to structure the props and puppets were well invested! The sequences are the singerâs entire career: his love of kids and animals, his own Peter Pan-esque tendencies (an arching bronze gate with âNeverlandâ over it primarily sits center stage along with the Giving Tree), his humanitarian efforts, the abundance of news headlines, his prized chimpanzee, Bubbles, dressed in overalls and horizontally red and white striped shirt and of course his love of dancing (the single tiles on the sloping monitor even light up as one dancer steps on each). And what a nice touch to see a lifesize, six-foot moonwalking glove throw up the middle finger and a peace sigin as the two-stepping eight-foot penny loafers are introduced during the âState of Shockâ/âBeat Itâ mashup!

Immortalâs set designing easily contextualizes MJJâs lyricism. MJJâs delicate spoken voice and majestic vocals were spliced and mixed over a variation of his infectious rhythm tracks. âWanna Be Starting Somethingâ introduced Afro-Indian styled dancers, thunderous congas and arena styled chanting. The iron clad âDancing Machineâ sequence was a motorized set of precise gyrations. The ballroom-styled, 1920s/30s gangster-themed âThis Place Hotelâ (featuring a scantily clad Guo performing the landmark opening melody) couldâve made it safely as a segment from a Tony Award-winning show on Broadway: morphing into âSmooth Criminalâ (you shouldâve seen the pyros shoot out the dancers during the famous lean routine) and âDangerousâ (featuring Felix Cane giving a stellar pole dance). During âHuman Nature,â the dancersâ starry bodies dissolve into the constellated backdrop. The mummies come out during âThrillerâ while flags from everywhere make up âBlack or White.â With basketballs resembling globes, the dancers during âJamâ dribbled and stepped. And pay close attention to the one-legged all-star, Jean Sok!

In other places, the show stalls and distorts just a tad, but knowing the songs and seeing the interpretation is stimulating enough to keep the entertainment and MJJâs legacy in play. âScreamâ probably displays the most acrobatics with a samurai, anime-styled aesthetic. For some reason, âEarth Songâ is drenched and coated in an exceptional yet fiery orange hue. During âI Just Canât Stop Loving You,â the song -- part English, part Spanish â accompanies ballerinas draped in white and covered in Swarovski crystals gliding on-stage. The next minute, there are carbon copies of soldiers dressed like robots with red breastplates in the shape of hearts. What an allegory for MJJâs crusade for all mankind!

Immortal doesnât leave without its share of solemn moments. One canât help but to get misty eyed seeing a teenage MJJ sing in his falsetto (yes, the Afros and psychedelic polyester costumes come out to play). Before the showâs closing with a star-studded silhouette of the performer appearing in a mock night sky, âMan In the Mirrorâ rounds it out. Itâs a clear indicator in sound, spirit and vision that there are no other performers and entertainers like MJJ. Truly.

The Immortal World Tour stops in London on Oct. 12-20, 2012. For more information, log onto http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/michael-jackson-tour/default.aspx, friend MJ Immortal Tour on Facebook, follow @Cirque (or #mjIMMORTAL) on Twitter or tune into Cirque du Soleil on YouTube.

Photos: OSA Images
Words Christopher Daniel

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