It's been more than two years since Michael Jackson's death, and the world is still finding ways to honor the career of one of the most famous singers in history. One of the most elaborate tributes to the King of Pop is undoubtedly "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour," by Cirque du Soleil.
A 90-minute spectacle featuring Jackson's music as the backdrop for a multitude of spectacular acrobatic and dance sequences by the acclaimed Cirque du Soleil group, "The Immortal World Tour" will visit Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center at 8 p.m. April 24.
"You have kind of two worlds colliding, so you had to mix Cirque du Soleil's reality with Michael Jackson's music," said Maxime Charbonneau, the show's publicist, in a phone interview from a recent tour stop in Philadelphia. "The show's a hybrid of a rock concert and a Cirque du Soleil performance."
Dancers immitate Michael Jackson’s signature dance moves during a medley of hits.
Charbonneau was quick to point out one big difference between the Cirque tribute and most other shows dedicated to Jackson.
"There's been a lot of tribute shows to Michael Jackson ... [but] we don't have any impersonators," he said. "There's no one 'playing' Michael Jackson in this show."
"Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour" is unique for a Cirque du Soleil show, in that there is no clear, overall story which ties each scene to the last.
If you go
What: "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour"
When: 8 p.m. April 24
Where: Bryce Jordan Center, University Park
Tickets: $55, $86.50, $133.50 and $186. Tickets available online at www.ticketmaster.com, by calling 865-5555 or 863-1812 and in person at the BJC box office, Eisenhower Auditorium, HUB-Robeson Theater or the Downtown Theatre Center
"The show is more a tribute to the various messages he was trying to put forward in his music," Charbonneau said. "There's some sort of a story, [there's] a character that sort of opens the gates to the show. Then we go through the various stages of his career."
Although not told in a strictly chronological manner, Jackson's career is explored in innovative set pieces featuring 65 Cirque performers dancing and doing their signature acrobatics to his music. According to the press for the show, the scenes include:
* Dancing Machine - in a kind of ironworks factory, welders fly and swing on motorized cables and perform on different dancing machines;
* Smooth Criminal - dancers dressed in Jackson's trademark fedora, suit and armband showcase the late singer's iconic moves, including his famous "leaning motion";
* Dangerous - surrounded by gangsters, a female acrobat performs a "dangerous" pole-dancing act;
* Beat It - dancers bring Jackson's signature accessories - his glove and penny loafers - to life by dancing inside giant versions of the clothes.
Charbonneau said the show includes more than 30 of Jackson's songs, either in full or as part of a medley. The songs selected were picked to fit with the stories being told, however, not necessarily because they were Jackson's biggest successes.
"Most of his hits are there, but it would be hard to put all of his songs into a show - it would be six hours long!" he said.
There are no cover songs in the show, Charbonneau said. All the singing is Jackson, taken straight from the master recordings of his songs. But the music itself is performed live, and it's a point of pride for the show that the music is pitch-perfect.
Five members of the band had played with Jackson before on various tours and the show's drummer, Jonathan "Sugarfoot" Moffett, performed with Jackson for more than 30 years, first with the Jackson Five and then on all but one of his solo tours.
In fact, a familiarity with Jackson was a big part of the production process. The show was written and is directed by Jamie King, a concert tour specialist who has worked with Prince, Madonna, Christina Aguilera and more. King started his career as a dancer on Jackson's "Dangerous" tour.
In addition, "The Immortal World Tour" features former Jackson collaborator Greg Phillanganes as musical director, Jackson's frequent costume designer, Zaldy Goco, and several former Jackson choreographers.
"All the creators went to Neverland to get inspiration and met with people who had worked with Michael," Charbonneau said.
But some of the biggest help for the show's creators came from Jackson's estate, he said.
"The Jackson estate was deeply involved." he said. "They were involved in the creative process, they had to approve [the material]. They gave us great access to his music, his master recordings, the videos.
"We're actually creating another Michael Jackson/Cirque to open in Las Vegas in mid-2013."
Most of Jackson's family has been to see the show at least once, he added.
"We've had great support from the family and said nothing but great things about it," Charbonneau said.
The "massive" production will tour throughout the U.S. and Canada until the fall, hitting the biggest cities in North America until moving on to Europe. With such a big show and such a high-profile subject, it's a bit of a surprise to see it come to the Bryce Jordan Center.
Charbonneau acknowledges that the BJC is the smallest stop on the tour, but said the show has had success in other college towns earlier in the tour.
State College resident Kelly Langenohl, who will be attending the show, says she wasn't surprised to see such a large tour stop locally.
"I've been in State College for six years and I think it's incredible the acts they get to come to such a small town," the 24-year-old Pittsburgh native said.
Langenohl says she's been a Michael Jackson fan, "from the day I was born," and has seen several Cirque du Soleil shows, as well.
"[The idea of the show] is unbelievable." she said. "I'd have never thought to put them together, but I think it's a great way to interpret his music."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.