It’s telling that, during the climactic mega mix of “Can You Feel It,” “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” “Billy Jean” and “Black or White,” band members for “Michael Jackson: The Immortal” (at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Feb. 24-25) had to nearly beg audiences members to get on their feet and clap along.
And by the time Michael Jackson (recorded, obviously) was singing his insistence that the kid was not his son, most of those who had risen had already settled back into their seats.
Certainly, the Cirque du Soleil powers that be had plenty of material to work with. And they’ve got a seeming endless supply of acrobats, musicians, and dancers up to the task of making manifest whatever the collective Cirque imagination could dream up.
But, in this case, the dreams don’t quite coalesce into a show worthy of its subject or of the massive effort taken to bring them to the stage.
The misguided choices are many. There’s a central figure—a metallic mime—without the personality (or lighting design) to hold attention on stage the way that the best Cirque clowns have done in past productions. There’s a dancing chimp-suited guy and a cartooned afro-sporting J5 dance crew with nothing interesting to do but way too much stage time to do it. There’s too much emphasis on would-be-deep Jackson songs (i.e. the “Childhood” theme from “Free Willy” and “Earth Song”) and not enough Cirque wonder. And something is wrong when you can’t make “Thriller” thrilling.
Even in a disappointing Cirque du Soleil show, though, there are jaw-dropping moments. “The Immortal” features stunning visuals which, when working in conjunction with—rather than distracting from—the onstage action, are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. An early sequence featuring wall climbing dancers appearing to run atop moving train cars is extraordinary and promises wonders that the rest of the show doesn’t deliver.
And there’s a one-legged acrobat with infectious energy and superhuman abilities who seems ripe for his own place in a Cirque spotlight.
“Michael Jackson—The Immortal,” without the mortal Michael, feels like a concert rehearsal waiting for the star to show up.