Even though he passed away five years ago, Michael Jackson is still wowing his fans from the stage.
First, it was the hologram-errific “appearance” at the Billboard Music Awards this past Sunday. Now, it’s Cirque Du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour,” which will appear Friday and Saturday at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
In the show, Cirque’s trademark, high-flying aerial work and bendy-stretchy acrobatics are used to give thriller visuals to Jackson’s songbook.
“The greatest thing about working with the Michael Jackson estate is having access to the entire catalog,” says Kevin Antunes, the musical designer who says he worked with Jackson’s original master recordings for the production’s soundtrack. “I’m one of the few people who have been able to listen to his entire catalog. I wanted his fans to hear the things the way I got to, so they can hear the genius of this man. Even if he was singing background vocals, all of that is brought up front.”
Of course, the show samples liberally from Jackson’s iconic dance moves.
“We had choreographers come in [who] had worked with Michael in the past, so we had it firsthand,” explains Laurie Sposit, the show’s dance master, adding, “And all of our dancers are true Michael fanatics. I think that was one of the goals of the casting … finding dancers who truly knew who he was, what his style was.”
Antunes says his goal — his mantra, really — came from the show’s writer and director, Jamie King. “He said, ‘No matter what you do, keep Michael first. Act as if Michael is in the room with you.’ And John Branca, who is executor of the estate, also said, ‘Just keep Michael first.’ So you hear Michael’s voice more clear and more dominant in this performance than you on the albums.”
So for a year and half, he worked on song selection and mixing, right up until “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” debuted in 2011 as one of two Cirque shows that pay tribute to the entertainer (the other being Las Vegas’ “Michael Jackson: One,” which bowed in 2013). Antunes even shows up in the audio.
“We needed some sort of narrative to introduce the scary part of the show,” he explains. “I’m a huge fan of cinema, just like Michael was. I needed a voice to be creepy … like the Crypt Keeper. So that voice ended up being me. It’s pretty scary, though. You can catch part of my Massachusetts. You can hear a little bit of Boston at the very end. It’s ‘darkness,’ but I say, ‘dahk-ness.’”
The show’s stage has multiple lifts for scene changes. A large, multi-purpose LED screen starts flat on the stage but then stands up to act as a projection surface and later turns into a ramp.
In the middle of the stage, there are large drawers that serve as steps for artists to perform on.
The giant shoes that directly reference Michael Jackson’s famous penny loafers are eight feet long and created from orthopedic foam with a vinyl skin.
The six-foot tall glove is a soft sculpture that allows the dancer inside to create various hand positions using their full body.
The total video projection surface in the show is more than 5,300 square feet, larger than a basketball court
Cirque Du Soleil’s show features more than 35 of Jackson’s songs, in addition to numerous bits and pieces of songs that have been used for the soundscapes and transitions.
The audience can even hear Michael snap his fingers or stomp his feet in some audio segments.
Instead of hearing the string section in the “Childhood” section of the show in normal stereo, the whole orchestra spreads out and the audience will experience this song in a new way.
“They Don’t Care About Us” features a previously unreleased choir that Michael recorded.
The voice of Naomi Campbell and elements of the song “In the Closet” were blended into the intro of the “Dangerous.”
The copper-colored “welder” costumes with zippers in “Dancing Machine” directly reference Michael’s red, silver-meshed, zipper-clad jacket in “Beat It.”
The soldiers’ costumes in “They Don’t Care About Us” are essentially made of mytex (foil transfer) on a polyester frame with padding.
The shoulder pads on the gangster costumes for “Smooth Criminal” and “Dangerous” are made using 3D printing.
Each costume in the “Celestial/Human Nature” scene is equipped with 275 blinking LED lights specially designed for the show. They change color during the song to mimic constellations.
More than 90 costume pieces in three different acts use unique LED light technology.
The bat costumes are made of ultra lightweight paper used for shipping parcels. The huge, lifelike gold wings create a stunning effect
There are more than 250 costumes in the show and more than 1,200 pieces total including accessories, shoes, hats and head pieces.
Three 45-foot trucks are required to carry the costumes and additional wardrobe equipment (washers and dryers, sewing machines, supplies, etc.) from city to city.
“Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” will take place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the BB&T Center, 1 Panther Parkway, in Sunrise. Tickets cost from $68.50 to $147.50. Call 954-835-7469 or go to TheBBTcenter.com.