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The brilliant pop craftsmanship and unrivaled showmanship of Michael Jackson paired with the big-tent spectacle of Cirque Du Soleil is so obviously meant for each other, the biggest question for Cameron McKinlay is what took the union so long to happen?
“I’m surprised they didn’t do this earlier with Michael, it was such a perfect combination and with Michael loving Cirque Du Soleil so much,” he said. “It is the ideal marriage of artists. It’s a fantastic show.”
And yes, McKinlay is biased. He’s one of the dozens of colorful and electric stage performers — a mixture of classically trained dancers with self-taught b-boys (hip hop, breakdance) — in Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour, the massive and massively successful Cirque Du Soleil touring production that’s playing Toledo for two shows, 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at Huntington Center. Tickets, priced from $45 to $150, are available at all TicketMaster outlets, ticketmaster.com, the Huntington Center box office, and charge by phone at 800-745-3000.
McKinlay appears as one of five “fanatics” — excitable representations of overzealous Michael Jackson fans who dress like and emulate their idol — who interact with the audience and get the people to their feet. The 28-year-old classically trained dancer also performs in some of the show’s bigger choreographed routines, which affords him the opportunity to work with performers of different backgrounds, namely the b-boys.
The combination of the schooled and street styles in a single production, he said, “created a unique look in the show, which is what Michael would have wanted.”
As The Immortal World Tour’s artistic director, Michael Smith, said, Jackson, for all his grace and style as a performer, wasn’t a trained dancer but “an incredibly naturally gifted dancer” who imported the street style to the masses.
“He affected the entire industry in the ’80s and early ’90s [by] bringing street dance into a much more commercially accessible field,” Smith said.
“So if we’re going to do an homage to him and his work, applying the same rules is bringing in street dancers.”
More than a dance spectacular along with Cirque Du Soleil’s hallmarks of high-wire acrobatics and feats of strength and skill, The Immortal World Tour was conceived as a true concert experience; more than 35 Jackson songs are performed over two sets by a band — including several musicians who performed with Jackson — and backing vocalists as live accompaniments to the singer’s isolated vocal tracks from studio recordings.
“It’s much more like you're going to a concert than you’re going to a typical Cirque Du Soleil show, where you sit passively and see these incredible images that we create acrobatically,” Smith said. “This is much more about the music, the dance, the energy that [Jackson] created when he performed.
“Cirque Du Soleil, we have our core audience. This was trying to access a different kind of audience. … His appeal goes across all generations; it’s everything, which I love.”
Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009, stunned the world. More than two years later, in October, 2011, The Immortal World Tour, written and directed by leading choreographer Jamie King, launched in Montreal, before touring North America and Europe. The Immortal World Tour consists of 30 trucks, with the performers, artists, management, and creative team loaded on four buses, typically playing two cities a week with an average of two to three shows at each stop.
As proof of the performer’s lasting appeal, the Cirque Du Soleil show has gone on to become the ninth highest-grossing tour of all time, according to Billboard.
And last year, King created a second Jackson-themed Cirque production, Michael Jackson ONE, at the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino in Las Vegas.
But that’s where the similarities end, Smith said.
“It was always established that the touring show was about Michael's music whereas the resident show in Vegas is much more about a typical Cirque Du Soleil show, a Cirque Du Soleil show with a soundtrack of Michael Jackson’s music. This is much more a tribute to the man and his music.”
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.