It is exactly two years to the day that Michael Jackson died from an overdose of propofol in Los Angeles, and Jamie King is sitting in his Montreal apartment taking a break from the challenging rehearsals for Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson — The Immortal World Tour.
“I remember the exact moment I heard the news when Michael had passed away,” says King, softly. “I was in London with Madonna and we were in the O2 Arena doing her “Sticky & Sweet” tour. That is where Michael was supposed to come and launch his “This Is It!” tour. That was the last memory I have of him. Michael passed; we were there, and he was supposed to be coming there, but …”
It was the only rueful moment in an otherwise upbeat conversation centered around the multi-media live extravaganza King has written, designed and directed, in association with the Canadian theatrical company and the Michael Jackson estate. “So,” he adds, “to now be asked to immortalize Michael in this way, was just overwhelming.”
Organizers expect the traveling road show, which bows in Montreal on Oct. 2 before hitting 80 markets through September 2012, to play for a combined audience of 1.5 million stretched out over 180 performances, with revenues projected to exceed $1 billion.
Jackson’s multi-track vocals will be placed over a live band, which includes several key players who had toured with the pop star, such as keyboardist and music director Greg Phillinganes and drummer Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett.
Patrons who expect a show similar to most Cirque du Soleil shows will likely be surprised.
“It’s different,” says Stephane Mongeau, executive producer for Cirque. “It’s a live concert with musicians, dancers and acrobats.
“We wanted to pay tribute to Michael, his music and his dancing, so we anchored the show in his home of Neverland.”
It was on a trip to Jackson’s former home nine months after his death that attorney John Branca and Interscope Records founder John McClain, co-executors of the late singer’s estate, laid the plans out to produce a show with Cirque founder/ CEO Guy Laliberte and Mongeau.
“We had been in touch with Jamie for five or six years just seeing what might be possible for us to create with him,” says Mongeau. “We were already dialed into him and had already started the conversation with Jamie about doing future shows involving him and Cirque. The Estate was well aware of Jamie, too. So, when that opportunity came to do this, his name was the first one we all thought of.”
The Immortal World Tour is Cirque’s third venture into merging pop icons with their other-worldly acrobatics. The Beatles Love and Viva Elvis remain nightly sell outs at their anchored Las Vegas theaters; but this is the first attempt to take a pop music-oriented show on tour.
“Michael will always be present during the show through video and new technology, especially holographic technology,” says King. “Most importantly, because it is a music-driven show, we’re working with Michael’s catalog. Michael is really the narrator, his voice will always be there.”
The set will be carried by 30 tractor-trailers, and was designed by Mark Fisher, whose clients have included Pink Floyd and David Bowie.
As in Jackson’s live performances, the energy will come from the dancing. “The iconic choreography of Michael Jackson is always referenced,” says King, who worked with Jackson for nearly two years as a dancer and choreographer. “What is great about the magic of Cirque, as you know, is that his dancing can now be imagined in a more magical way, that not even Michael could have envisioned. We can take the moonwalk and now imagine it, upside down, on the ceiling in the arena!”
With a development budget north of $50 million, the production touts 65 Jackson songs, including standard arrangements, remixes and mash-ups; Jackson’s choreography; and Cirque’s trademark acrobatics.
“It will be unlike any other rock show that you may have seen before,” boasts King, who began the project in March 2010. “It is a hybrid where we are taking the idea of a rock show and a Cirque show and taking it on the road.”
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