LOS ANGELES — If you were to watch only the first 15 minutes of Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour, it’s quite likely you’d surmise that Mike deserved better.
Despite the pyrotechnics, the strobe lighting and glow-in-the-dark acrobats, the opening segments in this Cirque du Soleil/Michael Jackson Estate production fail to impress, inspire or even summon the spirit of the man with the sequined glove. Much of the choreography is too mechanical and it feels as though the dancers, many of whom have no physical or racial resemblance to the late King of Pop, are more concerned about making sure their feet are in the right place instead of allowing themselves to feel the magical rhythms of Jackson’s songs.
There were times when it appeared that the dancers were resurrecting Janet Jackson’s routines from 1986. Remember her military phase? And, after having attended and/or covered at least eight Jackson 5, Jacksons and Michael Jackson tours, I can safely say that not once did I ever see Jackson do the running man or that wacky “Carlton” dance from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air like the faux MJs did Friday night in the first of three shows at the Staples Center.
One of the biggest problems overall, however, was that the audience was often torn. If you had to make a choice between the video backdrop featuring the real deal or the performers on stage, the first option won out every time.
Yet, the show, which featured such Jackson hits as: Wanna Be Starting Something, Ben, Smooth Criminal, Dangerous, Human Nature, Thriller, Beat It, Bad, Jam and Man in the Mirror, was not a total disappointment. It started popping more in the second half.
Written and directed by Jamie King, there were moments when the staging, dancing and acrobatics all worked in perfect harmony with each other. Such was the case during Will You Be There, the poignant ballad that Jennifer Hudson sang at Jackson’s 2009 funeral held at this very same location.
That song bled into a video of a young Jackson singing I’ll Be There without the background vocals of his four brothers. It was moments like those when the capacity crowd felt the enormity of his passing.
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One of the better numbers was Thriller. Zombies dressed in white slithered across the stage, including one with an amputated leg who danced his butt off with the aid of forearm crutches. You just knew MJ was out there somewhere applauding wildly. The giant dancing sequined glove was also pretty cool and the finale, Man in the Mirror, was so good that some folks raced out of the arena because they couldn’t wait to relive the Michael Jackson experience again via their car stereos.
Productions of this ilk often try too hard and just become hokey caricatures of themselves or the icon they’re paying tribute to. Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour, albeit sold out and enjoyed by many of his more hardcore younger fans, perhaps doesn’t try hard enough.
When you’re saluting one of the world’s all-time great entertainers, you’ve got to bring it every second.