If you walked into Time Warner Cable Arena to see the awkwardly named “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil” thinking you were going to hear all of the late King of Pop’s most beloved hits, you might walk out a bit disappointed.
If you came in thinking you were going to see a typically dazzling Cirque du Soleil production, you might come away a tad underwhelmed.
The two-act, 130-minute show – produced in partnership with the Jackson estate and in Charlotte Tuesday and Wednesday – is lots of things: big, bold, colorful, ambitious, celebratory and reverential, but also uneven, ponderous, and at times just plain weird. It can’t settle on a tone, jumps around in time, and consistently goes too long without significantly crowd-pleasing moments.
“Immortal” features more than 60 performers, along with musicians who were members of Jackson’s band. It’s a tribute, with his vocals (supported by the live band and background singers), dance routines inspired by his moves, and lots of video montages featuring Jackson, who died in June 2009 at age 50.
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It was written and directed by Jamie King, who recently choreographed Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show and has designed concerts for Rihanna and Britney Spears. And while I wouldn’t profess to know more about developing set lists for large-scale arena shows than someone with those credentials, I can’t help but wonder about King’s choices.
If you are able to – without any prompting or clues – hum the hooks for deep cuts from the Jackson oeuvre like “Is It Scary” or “Working Day and Night,” then you are obviously a true fan and you won’t be puzzled by the lineup.
Me, I wanted his re-live all of his biggest hits. But although many are there, No. 1s like “Rock With You,” “Bad,” “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Dirty Diana” didn’t make the cut, and megahit “Billie Jean” is given awfully short shrift. Another thing that makes the show feel disjointed is that it’s not chronological, so it feels less like a journey and more like a hodgepodge.
The most fundamental disappointment, though, is the fact that Cirque’s cast puts more of a premium on dancing and goofing around (in a giant white glove, in a Bubbles the Monkey costume, in oversized afro wigs), while limiting the number of mind-bending acrobatic feats we’ve become so accustomed to at its shows.
On the bright side, there are some awe-inspiring moments. Anna Melnikova wowed the audience midway through Act 1 when – clad in a sequined bikini, sequined gloves and black heels – she did a sexy, risky pole dance high above the stage to Jackson’s apropos 1991 hit “Dangerous.”
She was overshadowed only by recurring appearances by amputee Jean Sok, who is without question the best (and only) one-legged breakdancer I have ever seen.
“Immortal” also builds to a rousing climax, with the singer’s messages of tolerance and acceptance coming through clearly in “Black or White,” which I saw both black and white people singing along to as cast members waved a kaleidoscopic array of national flags on stage.
It’s just a shame it took almost a full two hours to get the crowd on its feet for anything other than intermission.