Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour spans the absurd to the shallow

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      A Cirque du Soleil production. At Rogers Arena on Friday, November 4. No remaining performances

      It can be hard to see, what with all the acrobats, aerialists, balloons, bats, bikinis, soldiers, statues, welders, whizzbangs, zombies, and wacko Jacko impersonators, but there’s a giant, star-shaped hole at the centre of Cirque du Soleil’s latest production. What’s missing is Michael Jackson himself.

      It’s sad, and inevitable, but Michael Jackson: THE IMMORTAL World Tour is enormous, impressive, and utterly, devastatingly hollow. The problem was compounded on Friday night by the unexplained absence of the giant Giving Tree, the on-stage centrepiece which director Jamie King, interviewed in the Straight last week, called IMMORTAL’s “energy source”. (Confusingly, what’s left of the tree, which served as both a sturdy oak and a sprawling, tentacular alien life form when the show made its debut in Montreal, now resembles a scale model of a nuclear reactor’s cooling tower.)

      IMMORTAL tries to deliver a stadium-worthy rock spectacle, but there’s no emotional core to hold it together. Jackson’s outsized charisma might have done the trick—but he’s not there. Instead, there’s his voice, liberated by digital technology from his studio mastertapes, and his songs. There are dozens of dancers, all of whom seem to have learned his moves step for step. There are archival images from his iconic videos. But the only sparks are those ignited by pyrotechnicians.

      It would be easy to lay the blame on the narrow shoulders of the hip-hop dancer and mime playing the Jackson role, but that would be unfair to Salah Benlemqawanssa. He’s a small, slight man who, off-stage, comes across as naturally humble, even shy—but he does have a gift for embodying emotion, and a supremely flexible body to do it with. The moment towards the end of the first set, when he rises from lying on his back to a standing position without the use of his arms, defies all of the known laws of physics.

      But Benlemqawanssa is not served well by King’s penchant for nonstop sensory bombardment. At times, he’s so swamped by squadrons of flashily clad dancers that, in his simple-but-spangly white jumpsuit, he seems a lonely ghost. And in general, the Franco-Moroccan artist’s performance is on too small a scale for an undertaking of this size. (Hint: bring binoculars.)

      Miming that could have been impressive in a cabaret setting was lost at Rogers Arena—although it might have been effectively transmitted to the crowd were Benlemqawanssa given a more prominent place on the giant video screen that backdrops the stage. That, though, would take away from digital Jackson, whose beamed-in-from-beyond-the-grave presence looms way larger than any of the carbon-based cast members.

      In terms of that cast, during “Scary Story-Is It Scary”, contortionist Baaska Enkhbaatar delivers further mind-boggling physical feats, but the rest could be automatons, so perfectly faceless is their work. Musical soloists Desireé Bassett on guitar and Tina Guo on electric cello fare better; both should be able to use their “Beat It” showcase to win a place in a real rock ’n’ roll stage spectacular. Former Jackson sideman Greg Phillinganes’s band is impeccable: big and splashy and perfectly integrated with the prerecorded singing—which is less of an accomplishment in this age of lip-synching than it used to be, but it’s still not easy.

      It all adds up to the kind of awesomely absurd spectacle that’s long on wow but short on satisfaction, however. The defining moment for this viewer came near the end of the show, when an image of Jackson is projected onto the remnant trunk of the Giving Tree. With his arms spread wide, it looks like the King of Pop is being crucified—and then the lights come up on a catwalk above the stage, where Bubbles the Chimp and his turntables are rocking a “Mega Mix” of Jackson hits.

      There’s something beautifully bizarre about Michael Jackson being born again as a chimpanzee DJ, but it’s probably not quite what the show’s creators had in mind.

      Comments

      20 Comments

      Karen Gibson

      Nov 5, 2011 at 3:30pm

      Typical. Couldn't do a review without including reference to "wacko Jacko" and using the word "bizzare". Wow, such originality! Only, this is the type of trash talk that Mr. Jackson had to endure his entire life. It moved from tabloid to mainstream decades ago and so-called 'journalists' like you, who are only to happy to jump on an old put-down bandwagon than to have an original thought. I guess you are male, given your name. Men have always been threatened by MJ...

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      Tina Blackburn

      Nov 5, 2011 at 3:41pm

      Really?? I cant believe that a Canadian paper would use the racist term "Jacko" and if you did a bit a research you would know what Im talking about.
      I saw this show on opening night in Montreal and it was FANTASTIC!!! A true tribute to the Man and his Legacy.

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      Carine

      Nov 5, 2011 at 4:32pm

      Please don't use the name Wac*o Jac*o in reference of Michael. He hated that name and the fans hate it too. His actual name, Jackson, is shorter to write, you should give it a try.

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      Nanor.

      Nov 5, 2011 at 6:38pm

      Tonight, im going to a circus show to the sound of jackson tunes, which is apparently a bit of a tribute to the deceased star. Im not sure what show the reviewer is writing about, but it reads like he expecting to review a symposium on this particular artists's contribution. He must have gone to the wrong arena.

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      greggron

      Nov 5, 2011 at 10:38pm

      How can people be seen in public at a tribute to a child molester...hang your heads in shame!

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      MJ fan

      Nov 6, 2011 at 12:44am

      We saw the show tonight and were extremely disappointed. We have seen all the travelling Cirque shows and a few in Vegas and we love the performances. We bought 2 $175 tickets to this last year and were really looking forward to the show. I'm not sure what happened here, this was the worst cirque show we have ever seen. The choreography was too simplistic, not in sync, and performed by amateurs that brought no energy to the stadium. The light suits were malfunctioning and the curtain was getting stuck when they tried to lower it. It looked as if they were still in rehearsal mode, as if the show was not ready for an audience. The second half brought talented, traditional cirque performers, however, there wasn't enough of these acts to carry a spectator through the entire show. A lot of the time was used up watching projections on the screens / curtains and we were disappointed by how much money we spent to watch lip syncing performances and people walking around the stage with globes or doing "stunts" like summersaults or one handed cartwheels. It wasn't up to cirque standard and we were hoping for longer versions of Michael's best (Beat It only played for about 90 seconds, where as they did longer routines to less popular songs, some we had never heard before). There was no flow to the performance and it was definitely lacking the magic that cirque and Michael Jackson never fail to bring. Knowing how much work, effort, and energy Michael put into his performances to create a magical, flawless, and spectacular show for his audiences, it was disappointing to see this tribute fall short. We feel ripped off =(

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      Sue Adams

      Nov 6, 2011 at 2:24am

      A very typical media-orientated review and by using the name Michael hated so much; "W**** J****' you show yourself so obviously to be a hater anyways so it's obvious you WOULD choose to review this show from your own very limited and narrow framework reference! @greggron - are you the same person who wrote this article?!

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      walker

      Nov 6, 2011 at 5:53am

      Woah, the MJ police are out in force for this one.

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      topnotch

      Nov 6, 2011 at 11:06am

      I saw the show on friday and it was mind blowing. When you read this review it's like there are many more things better than this out there. Name me one that we can see here at home? and yes Michael Jackson is dead so YOU WONT SEE him in any show idiot!

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      uknow

      Nov 6, 2011 at 11:30am

      P-E-R-V

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