Niagara Gazette

July 29, 2012

Cirque du Soleil immortalizes the king of pop

By Paul Lane tonawandafeatures@,
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Whatever one’s opinion of the late music legend Michael Jackson, no one could deny that he was far ahead of the curve in terms of showmanship and choreography.

So only the most innovative of live stage show production companies would likely be able to advance his legacy some two years after his death.

Enter Cirque du Soleil.

The internationally renowned entertainment company, which is nearing its 30-year anniversary, tasked Jamie King to write and direct a Jackson-themed show about a year ago. The result, “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour,” makes its first stop in Buffalo on Tuesday after more than nine months on the road.

Among the 61 dancers and musicians in the cast is Khalid Freeman, a Detroit native who grew up a big fan of Jackson’s music. The show has the support of Jackson’s estate, so Khalid said it’s not shy in utilizing elements that made Jackson the most well-known musician on the planet.

“It’s a hybrid of a rock concert and a Cirque show. It’s almost like you’re at a Michael Jackson concert,” he said in a phone interview. “We do his songs, dances and use his costumes. You’ll see the glove, the penny loafers.”

Touching on most major points in Jackson’s life — although not in chronological order — the show will touch viewers for many reasons, he said.

“It’s going to have an effect on somebody’s nostalgia, how they were raised.

“Generations were raised on his music,” he said. “Everyone who comes to the show is going to know 90 percent of the songs. And if you’re a real fan, you’re going to know them all.”

He said attendees will also see the passing on of Jackson’s message of caring for the planet and its inhabitants.

“You’ve got the power of this man’s voice and his message,” Freeman said. “I know I’m a part of something that’s great. This is really doing some charity to the world, I believe.”

Whatever the motivation, millions of people have attended the show since it debuted in October. The show sold more than $100 million worth of tickets within two months and was the nation’s top-touring act by the start of 2012, according to Forbes.

The tour has touched down in every market in the United States and multiple times in Canada’s major cities, including Montreal, which hosted “The Immortal World Tour” for the third time earlier in July. Overall, the show has averaged a 96 percent stadium capacity per performance and generated more than $127.5 million in gross ticket revenue, according to figures from Billboard.

“I think it exceeds their expectations,” Freeman said of audience members. “The most common response is they want to see it again. They can’t even fathom what just happened.”

After the show departs Western New York, it’s slated to stay in the United States through August. It will then visit Mexico City before departing in the fall for a swing through Europe that will carry into 2013. A house version of “The Immortal World Tour” will launch in early 2013 at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas while the touring production stays on the road.

Wherever and whenever people watch the show, Freeman said they will be better off for doing so.

“You’re going to want to cure the world. It’s about the King and his message to the world,” he said. “It’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than our cast. It’s bigger than anything you can imagine.”