Michael Jackson Arena Show Details Emerge

6 Nov

The storyboard for Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour centers around “The Giving Tree.”

The Michael Jackson arena show, a collaboration between the Estate of Michael Jackson and Cirque du Soleil, now has a name, a director and an on-sale date. To be called “Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour,” it opens, as do all Cirque shows, at the Bell Centre, Montreal, a year from now (Oct. 2-3, 2011). To date, 28 shows in 2 markets have been announced.

Finn Taylor, GM Arena Shows for Cirque, said the North American tour is 95 percent booked and will involve at least 30 or 40 more shows. In the second year, it will play Europe. The routing plan is similar to all Cirque productions. “We’re looking at a three-year world tour,” Taylor said.  And like all Cirque shows, it can stay on the road like a family show production, without concern for the late celebrity’s stamina.

Unlike other arena shows he books, however, this one does not involve scaled down venues, usually in the 4,500-5,000 seat range for a traditional Cirque arena show. In fact, he is looking at 15,000 or more seats for most dates. “This is a full arena show.”

“From a production point of view, it’s like a Michael Jackson concert with an end stage,” Taylor said. “You will walk in the arena and feel like you’re at a concert.” The choreography and music, therefore, will be relevant to Jackson, with Cirque creativity to enhance it.

The writer and director is Jamie King, who has spent the past 12 years as Madonna’s creative director. He also directed Rihanna’s Last Girl On Earth world tour, Celine Dion’s Taking Chances world tour, The Return of the Spice Girls reunion tour, Britney Spears’ Circus tour and Avril Lavigne’s Best Damn tour. This is his first collaboration with Cirque, but not with Michael Jackson. King worked with Jackson in his early years.

The Immortal World Tour will benefit from access to Jackson’s entire catalog of music, videos and costumes, King said. The late Michael Jackson will be the “narrator” through recordings and lyrics he left behind. Sixty dancers and singers will tell a fairytale story set in Jackson’s Neverland, using his “iconic industrial looks” for costumes and his own voice singing lead. “Michael was a huge fan of Cirque,” King added, but no one can sing Michael Jackson like Michael Jackson. The “Giving Tree,” positioned as the wellspring of Michael Jackson’s creativity, is the centerpiece of the story.

The goal is to “contaminate” the audience, King’s phrase for engage. Pyrotechnics and flying people are a matter of course.

There will be no impersonators, King guaranteed. The show is theatrical, with the spectacular effects that make the live concert experience and Cirque shows so popular with patrons. King compared it, in size, to Madonna’s last tour, the heaviest and biggest he’s ever produced before. “Imagine people overhead doing the moonwalk,” he said, adding that’s not necessarily in the show.

Taylor said the show will probably move in 25 trucks. In addition to the 60 artists, there will be 60 in the crew. The smallest arena on the tour is the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, where it will play a few dates during the holidays, Taylor said. It does not have anything to do with Cirque’s Michael Jackson show planned for Mandalay Bay’s theater, to open in 2013. “The Vegas shows are much different shows; the theater is custom-built,” he noted.

Ticket prices for Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour range from a VIP price of $250 to a general public option of $50. First shot at purchase goes to Cirque Club members or MichaelJackson.com subscribers, both free to join. The presale runs from Nov. 3-6 and tickets go on sale to the general public Nov. 6.

A coordinated, global public relations campaign Nov. 3 had King and other principles doing media interviews while the arenas on the tour sent press releases to their lists and the two online clubs launched the pre-sale offer.

Merchandise will be handled by Bravado, the Jackson estate merchandiser. Creative support for King comes from Cirque’s Guy Laliberte, creative guide; Chantal Tremblay, director of creation; Mark Fisher, set designer; Saldy Goco, costume designer; Kevin Antunes, musical designer; Martin Labrecque, lighting designer; Olivier Goulet, projection and video content designer; Francois Desjardines, sound designer; Scott Osgood, rigging and acrobatic equipment designer; Germain Guillemot, acrobatic performance designer; and Michael Curry, props designer.

Tour dates so far include: Scotiabank Place, Ottawa, Ont., Oct. 7; Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, Ont., 12; Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, 15; John Labatt Centre, London, Ont., 18; Air Canada Centre, Toronto, 21; MTS Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 26; Credit Union Centre, Saskatoon, Sask., 29; Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alta., Nov. 1; Rogers Arena, Vancouver, B.C., 4; KeyArena, Seattle, 9; Rose Garden, Portland, Ore., 18; EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, 29; and Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, Dec. 3-11.

The 2012 dates announced include: Pepsi Center, Denver, Jan. 6; Arena, Sacramento, Calif., 10; HP Pavilion at San Jose, Calif., 13; Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif., 18; Valley View Casino Center, San Diego, 21; Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif., 24; Staples Center, Los Angeles, 27; Toyota Center, Houston, Feb. 10; AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, March 2; Colisée Pepsi, Quebec City, 24; Madison Square Garden, New York, April 3; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, 10; and Philips Arena, Atlanta, June 29.

The two producing entities will each own 50 percent of each Michael Jackson project, sharing equally in the cost of creating, developing, building and producing the projects and in the profits from each project. A typical Cirque production costs in the range of $15 million. This will be more.

The Estate of Michael Jackson will also receive royalty payments on various aspects of its intellectual property used in the Michael Jackson projects. Cirque du Soleil is the tour promoter. The show will rehearse at Cirque headquarters in Montreal. Dress rehearsal will be at the Bell Centre. —   Linda Deckard

Interviewed for this story: Finn Taylor and Jamie King, (514) 723-7646

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