That one word perhaps best sums up why the combination of Cirque de Soleil and Michael Jackson works so well.
“It’s a collaboration of two forms of entertainment that strive for excellence,” artistic director Tara Young said, “and both did shows that live in the world of the extraordinary.”
The collaboration between Cirque and Jackson’s family and estate began shortly after the singer’s death in 2009, Cirque publicist Laura Silverman told The Beat.
The show’s creative team spent time at the Neverland Ranch and hired musicians who played with Jackson (including music director Greg Phillinganes and drummer Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett) and choreographers who worked with him.
“When Cirque decided to bring in people that worked with Michael, it added an integrity that I personally think is really important,” Young said.
Silverman said the show is a “tribute to (Jackson) as an artist, but is not a biopic.”
“You won’t see an impersonation,” Young said. “The show is a celebration and honor of his life.”
All of which is not to say that familiar visuals, such as a red leather jacket or single bejeweled glove, aren’t present in the show, nor that the dancing won’t include, for example, moonwalking.
With permission from the Jackson estate, the show’s music is performed by a live band of instrumentalists and vocalists backing Jackson’s original recorded vocals.
The show also features aerialists, contortionists, acrobats and other elements common to all Cirque shows, but Silverman explained the show does have more of a “pop-concert feel, much more like a concert.”
“People that like Michael Jackson but have never seen Cirque du Soleil come to the shows, just as die-hard Cirque fans who maybe don’t consider themselves Michael Jackson fans,” Young said.
“I will say this: Even if you didn’t know you liked Michael, you will like Michael.”
Young said the show is appropriate for all ages, from young children to seniors.
The show features 63 artists of various specialties from around the world.
More than 200 people travel with the tour, which requires 35 tractor-trailers. Young said the arena show takes about eight hours to set up but a mere two hours to load out.
Young lives in New York City and has directed or provided other artistic leadership for Broadway shows for 25 years.
Her job is to maintain the overall artistic integrity of the show, from the macro to the micro. She also said she is always working to ensure morale is high among the performers.
“I want every show to be ‘up,’ ” she said.
“You know there are moments (in the show) when people have specific recollection of Michael, when they see a picture of a young Michael Jackson or hear him sing a song or a line,” she added.
“When people have that excitement, it touches me.”