THE IMMORTAL Cirque du Soleil American Airlines Center, Dallas Friday, July 25, 2014
Inside the American Airline Center a child of maybe five years stands next to the Cirque Du Soleil merch table wearing a replica of Michael Jackson's red leather jacket from the "Beat It" video. He's pointing out excitedly what merch he wants to his grandmother, choosing a shirt, a program and most importantly a $40 sparkling fedora. He puts it on, and adds a sparkling glove, then proceeds to pose for photos for people passing him for a good 15 minutes. The smile fixed on the child's face conveys the joy in the air, and everyone in attendance seems to share the same enthusiasm.
There are an surprising number of children in attendance, mostly due to the Great Dallas Boys & Girls Clubs, Girls, Inc. and the Promising Youth Alliance all having secured lots of tickets for their charges. This is a great thing, because much of Jackson's career was centered on the idea of childlike wonder, and circuses exist to foster the idea that wonder is real.
The pairing of Cirque du Soleil with the music of Michael Jackson means two things- 1) the Canadian troupe's usual brand acrobatic performance would be toned down in favor of mixing in the elements of Jackson's signature performances, and 2) we're promised a genre hopping show that covers Jackson's extensive catalog.
The show kicks off with 5 dancers freaking out over a giant effigy of Michael Jackson, then a mime dressed like a b-boy who may or may not be the ghost of Michael Jackson shows up. Then there's a series of dancers, including a dancer who break dances with crutches due to having just one leg.
The mime awakens bronze statues of children who were sitting just outside the gates of Neverland ranch. Bubbles, Michael Jackson's loyal chimp companion shows up, and so do giant dancing elephants. The Elephant Man's skull never pops up though, so that's one aspect of MJ's life they didn't cover.
A woman walks out during the "Smooth Criminal" montage and mock shoots the whole row of dancers. She then strips and climbs a giant pole to performs a dance set to "Dangerous" while hanging 18 feet in the air. It's a jaw-dropping display of athleticism.
Later trapeze artist in LED suits fly around a starscape, a contortionist dressed as a monster chases the mime around a book during "Ghost Stories," and a few dozen mummies dance to "Thriller."
During intermission I find myself surrounded by a large group of Boys & Girls Club kids who are all too happy to tell me their favorite parts of the show. Favorites include the one-legged dancer, the performer who is Bubbles and the giant elephants. One kid mentions the pole dancer and motions for me to give him a high five.
Back at the merch booth I notice that every purchase comes with a free CD copy of Jackson's new album Xscape. One has to wonder if those album sales are reported; if so, that's why we're seeing the album do so well in a time where album sales just don't happen.
The second half of the show amped up the energy as the dancier songs from Jackson's catalog were featured. Endless cavalcades of costumed dancers were brought out to get a moment to shine. A show-stopping number set to a "Bad/Beat It" mashup featured almost move-for-move recreations of Jackson's choreography from his music videos. The number for "Black or White" featured a mixture of dance techniques from around the world.
The night comes to a close with each performance troupe getting a time to shine center stage while "Man in the Mirror" plays, finally ending when the mime and Bubbles take the spot light and the mime dons Jackson's glove and hat. Then, like the five-year-old in the lobby, he poses, and the lights go out. IMMORTAL might be the perfect name for the show, because if we keep capturing children's imaginations the legend of Michael Jackson will never go away.