The King Immortal, The King Eternal?

I’m slightly beside myself this Sunday since I only got into bed some time around midnight and didn’t really sleep that well after yesterday’s events, not least of all because my illness makes staying up so long a struggle, but it was worth it. As I wrote back then, I went to see Immortal, the we-wish-Michael-Jackson-was-still-alive show by Cirque du Soleil.

As was to be expected, the show was technically impressive. The stage was pretty huge (for a touring show) with a long catwalk connecting a round pedestal and a two-floor aft stage area with some more space in-between. On the second floor they had placed the show band, which with about 15 people is twice as many as on most other shows. There were several moving LED walls additionally covered with plexiglass that swiveled around and were also used for various acts as stages – vertical and horizontal. In addition to that, there were curtains used for more video presentation using projectors. The screen materials of course featured tons of snippets of M.J.‘s videos, but also graphical artwork and generic backgrounds for a specific song or performance. As a matter of fact I distinctly spotted Plexus and Optical Flares in there, but of course they probably used every After Effects plug-in that exists out there and lots of other tools in one way or another. They also did live video with several cameras, which is a bit unusual for Cirque‘s shows. Which kinda brings us to the next point.

Make no mistake, this is not your normal Cirque du Soleil show. It is by all means all crafted around Jackson‘s visions and materials and that is both good and bad at the same time. It is good in that it gives you a quite energetic show that skillfully mimics how the man did his own concerts and choreographed and shot the music videos we all know so well. If you will, it’s your chance to see a Michael Jackson concert even now when he’s smiling from cloud nine as some kind of spectacular funeral service with his own music. On the bad side, I feel that all too slavishly adhering to that has limited the show’s own creative potential. As I wrote in the post I mentioned already, I feel that tailoring a show specifically to tell a story and then build the acts and music around that is a better approach.

In addition to this, Immortal is perhaps a bit too much of everything already. It’s sometimes drowning in its own bombastic music (which, I might say so, also was rather loudly shoved into our ears, often swallowing the applause even) and the kitsch factor is extremely high. At times  I really thought there was no more way to put more butter on a square inch of bread, in a manner of speaking, but they somehow always managed to bring up one more glowing heart or another Earth colored ball while playing songs like “What about us”. I think I need a handkerchief… *sob,sob* Seen from that angle it makes you indeed wish the man would still be alive so we would be spared some of that. Don’t get me wrong, there were some cool moments and obviously the show hit every button emotionally with the fans (which I’m apparently not really despite liking some of his songs and appreciating his importance in the realm of pop music), I just feel it could have been better and less tacky here and there. It struck me as a bit too much as Las Vegas/ American style.

One of the things that furthers this point is that for me it worked best in the quiet moments when there was a glimpse of artistry and acrobatics and the show didn’t just try to be a live version of the music videos or repeat the infamous Moonwalk. A bit more of that would have been nice. From looking at the show program booklet it also seems there were two acts missing (perhaps the artists were just sick, perhaps they were culled) and some time this year they had a documentary on arte TV about the pre-production and concept phase where some stuff was in that also didn’t make it into the final version, it seems. Can’t be sure about the latter, but they’ll re-run the documentary around Christmas, so I can verify that. ;-) In any case, it might have given the whole thing a different spin.

The acts that were there were of course executed with perfection. You can count on that any time. There was a guy on crutches with just one leg and the crowd immediately cheered at him. Amazing what things he does with just one leg which my clumsy body can’t do with two. On several occasions they had artists dangling on wires, but mostly “simple” stuff where they occasionally took off, swirled around the stage and then touched down again as part of other performances. Only one performance had some ladies doing gymnastics on rings high up and funnily that was not really good to see since it happened mostly in the dark. A recurring theme was the use of LED lighting on the performers themselves which in its own way is of course a nice touch, it just doesn’t really work that well when you don’t know whether that blinking part is an arm or a leg, given the snake-like movements. One of the ladies also had a loose plug on her battery pack, so she remained completely dark which kinda ruined the picture. There were some other interesting ideas here and there, but the show being what it is, it was probably about 70% dancing and cheerleading acrobatics. One thing I really hated was some person dressed up as M.J.’s pet chimp Bubbles. It was probably meant to provide comic relief, but I found it unfitting and intellectually insulting. You can’t push the emo button and sing songs about preserving nature while at the same time having an imprisoned, anthropomorphized animal jumping around. That is so *uggh*.

In closing, despite my mixed emotions about some parts, the show is of course memorable, entertaining and enjoyable. Compared to the stuff we are usually treated to here in Germany/ Europe, even on more expensive Saturday night TV shows or concerts of popular artists, this one stands out by a mile and all the criticism appears minor or even nitpicky. You can just see how it has been tuned to be a perfect experience and the pacing and execution will leave you breathless. Most of you will probably be more familiar with Jackson‘s music, anyway, so you might get much more out of it and see it from a different perspective. That and of course the clock may be ticking on that one. Depending on the licensing deals behind it and the success this may go on for another few years (including becoming a resident show in Las Vegas where it would fit brilliantly I dare say) or it may be your once in a lifetime chance. So if it’s hitting a city somewhere near you and you can spring the money for the tickets, just do it!

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