by Michael P Coleman
“In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe.” – Michael Jackson
I spent last weekend in Las Vegas. While I am forced to abide by the mantra “whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” (and trust me, that’s for the best), I had one experience in Sin City that I HAVE to tell you about: I experienced Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque de Soleil at Mandalay Bay.
To be frank, I was hesitant to see the show. Michael Jackson was the preeminent entertainer of my generation, of my lifetime. I worried that what I had thought of as a “tribute” to the King of Pop would pale in comparison to his genius. Ultimately, the Cirque du Soleil billboards all over town, along with my brother’s first-hand testimony, beckoned me.
Boy, am I glad I listened.
Michael Jackson ONE is less “tribute” and more “infusion” — an infusion of the legend’s spirit, soul…life force. It’s a seamless, immersive combination of music, dance, and acrobatics (as I’d argue Jackson himself was) and it’s a “must see” for those like me who weren’t lucky enough to experience Michael Jackson live.
“We strived to let Michael’s words, images and music shine through, to let them speak for themselves,” said Welby Altidor, Michael Jackson ONE’s Creative Director. “This was a driving principle.”
“Michael mixed themes of fame and celebrity with those of political corruption and care for the earth,” Altidor continued. “Considering how complex his message was, we chose to celebrate all of his facets rather than create a one-dimensional representation of his work.”
Several of Jackson’s hits are incorporated into the show, along with a few of his lesser-known but equally incredible songs (like “Speechless” from 2001’s Invincible album). One of the show’s musical surprises was a medley of “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Human Nature.” I’ll never hear the latter song the same way again.
Visually, I don’t know where to start — and you won’t either. The stage isn’t the only vocal point for the show, to say the least. Cirque du Soleil deftly uses the walls of the theatre as an additional canvas, along with the ceiling and floor — no surface is off-limits. In fact, I struggled during several scenes to take it all in. At one point of the show, dancers literally bounced between the stage and the ceiling via dual trampolines. At another, a brilliant one-legged dancer — yes, that’s what I said! — absolutely wow’d the crowd and did MJ proud with a dance routine, complete with Michael’s trademark fedora, that left us breathless and drove us to both of our feet.
At several points of the show, we came as close as most of us will get to being in one of Michael’s videos — and in his world. The show’s presentation of “Smooth Criminal”, complete with glowing, leaning dancers was mind-blowing. Similarly, brace yourself for the zombies from “Thriller” leaping from the stage and dancing up and down the aisle of the theatre.
“I think that Michael would be really proud of ‘Thriller,’” said Jamie King, Michael Jackson ONE’s Story Creator and Director. “It’s one of my favorite acts in the show. It was about taking the iconic visuals of ‘Thriller’ and creating a modern day version. With Cirque, this opened up many possibilities because we have the capability to fly and moonwalk on walls, and have ghouls appear from all around us.”
As I watched the greatest music video of all time literally come to life before my eyes, I remembered Ola Ray’s epic line from “Thriller”’s 1983 music video: “Michael, you’re not like other guys.”
No, he wasn’t. And Michael Jackson ONE isn’t like other shows. I literally choked back tears a few times during the performance, and I haven’t stopped listening to Jackson’s music since seeing the show. For a few hours last weekend, Michael Jackson was alive again. And as he did with his life and career, Michael took advantage of his far-too-brief time in the spotlight and he THRILLED us.
Michael Jackson himself once said “I’ve always wanted to be able to tell stories, you know, stories that came from my soul. I’d like to sit by a fire and tell people stories — make them see pictures, make them cry and laugh, take them anywhere emotionally…I’d like to tell tales to move their souls and transform them. I’ve always wanted to be able to do that.”
That boundless vision of Michael Jackson’s is realized in Michael Jackson ONE.
Thanks, Cirque du Soleil.
This review was written by Sacramento-based freelance writer, MJ fan, and self-described smooth criminal Michael P Coleman. Connect with him at michaelpcoleman.com, at 916-834-5567, or on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP
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