But inspiring a true under-the-big-top spectacle? Now that’s something only Jackson could do.
Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” rolls into Verizon Center on Friday, claiming to capture the “essence, soul and inspiration” of the late King of Pop. In interviews posted on the show’s Web site, its creators state that Jackson’s music and vocals drive the production.
They’re wrong. Granted, the music is important — more than 30 of Jackson’s songs, including such hits as “Wanna Be Starting Something,” “Dangerous,” “Beat It, “ “Smooth Criminal” and “Man in the Mirror,” will be heard throughout the show, in mash-ups, remixes and live performances of new arrangements. The show’s musical director, Greg Phillinganes, traces his Jackson expertise back to session work on several of the singer’s albums and to his “Bad” and “Dangerous” concert tours, for which Phillinganes was also musical director.
But without Jackson’s legacy as a dance icon, there would be no Cirque circus. There would be, instead, the Jackson version of “Beatlemania.” “MJmania,” perhaps.
Think about it: If he weren’t such a physical performer, known for his introspective solos as well as full-out dance numbers in which his footwork outshone the career dancers fanned out behind him, what would Cirque’s dancers, contortionists and acrobats have been able to sink their famous bodies into? Jackson was a profoundly talented kinetic artist as well as a musician. He was unique in the pop-music world, an entertainer whose physical expression came at us just as powerfully as his musical one.
To be sure, there are countless other pop stars who dance. Ne-Yo pays affectionate homage to Jackson with his white socks and crisp, jazz-inflected choreography (which Jackson, by the way, borrowed in large measure from Broadway great Bob Fosse).
With his velvet coordination, Usher brings up-to-the-minute dance trends like the Memphis jook onstage. But not he, Ne-Yo or enthusiastic singer-dancer Chris Brown has the personal flamboyance or global renown to spark a theatrical event like the Cirque du Soleil show, which has European dates booked through next spring.
And none of them has made dancing a cornerstone of his craft to the extent that Jackson did.
Jackson’s identification as a dancer went beyond the common practice of injecting choreographed sequences into live performances and music videos. Even if such appealing singer-dancers as Beyonce or Madonna were to depart this life well before their time, as Jackson did three years ago at age 50, I’m not sure that the desire to cash in on their popularity would bloom into a dance-acrobatic-narrative extravaganza as this Cirque production promises to be.