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August 28, 2014

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We know (about) when, but where will MGM Mirage put Cirque du Michael?

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Joel Ryan/AP

A Michael Jackson-themed Cirque show is in the works from Cirque du Soleil.

Michael Jackson will headline in Las Vegas after all, eh?

After years of rampant, often inventive speculation that had Jackson partnering with such Vegas icons as Steve Wynn and performing in such venues as The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, the King of Pop will be onstage in legacy form in a Cirque du Soleil show at an MGM Mirage property.

Announced this morning, in an admirably out-of-left-field sort of way, was that Cirque du Soleil was going to take on Jackson's compelling music career and mercurial life story and bring it to the stage, ultimately in Las Vegas. First, though, is a concert-style arena tour (and I'd expect this to resemble "This is It," the show scheduled for 02 Arena in London at the time of Jackson's death) that will kick off in the fall of 2011. Plans are for this show about the pop legend, and onetime Las Vegas resident, to run about a year, maybe more than that, and then settle into an MGM Mirage property in 2012. A Jackson-themed nightclub, a natural fit for such a project, is also planned.

Cirque officials approached representatives from the Jackson estate last fall, about three months after his death on June 25, to explore a touring show and Vegas production. But where will this show be staged? MGM Mirage officials are not ready to say just yet.

"We're not making any specific announcement regarding the hotel," MGM Mirage spokeswoman Jenn Michaels said today. "But we are very excited about the partnership."

Also today, in a conference call from Los Angeles, John Branca, co-executor for the Estate of Michael Jackson, and Daniel Lamarre, president and chief executive officer of Cirque du Soleil, expressed excitement at the budding partnership. Lamarre said Cirque has not pinpointed the one hotel that will be home to this show but did say that decision would be made final in "about two months."

Both men said the touring show would be different from the permanent show in Las Vegas.

"The touring arena show will be a simulation of a Michael Jackson concert," Branca said. It will have all the extravaganza, all the visual elements of a live show.

The permanent show will be splashed with holograms, 3D images, video panels and the dazzling lighting and stage effects in an effort to bring Jackson's legendary videos to life. Don't expect, at the moment at least, a single Michael Jackson impressionist to fill that role in the stage show.

"No one can perform like Michael Jackson," Branca said. "But there will be dancing. Expect a lot of dancing, a lot of cutting-edge choreography and production."

"We want to push the envelope with the permanent show, with the rigging and staging. That is the plan here," Lamarre said. "When people walk into the theater, they want a different experience."

How the theater is to be designed is to be determined. Both men said staging the show in the round, similar to "Love's" theater design at The Mirage, has not been ruled out.

Jackson's interest in Cirque is well-known. In 2004, he visited the company headquarters in Montreal and attended productions with Branca. He also was a big fan of Vegas entertainment, production shows, Siegfried & Roy and magic in Las Vegas and beyond. He even asked Las Vegas frequenter David Copperfield to provide special effects for the Jacksons' "Victory" tour in the early '80s.

But the show in Vegas will not be a magic show. It will be loaded with pop classics, dancing and special effects.

"He was modern, very cutting-edge and timeless," Branca said. "You'll see that in the show."

From MGM Mirage's executive team, Bill Hornbuckle, the company's chief marketing officer, was quoted in a news release issued today as saying: "Las Vegas is known worldwide for its unparalleled entertainment offerings, many of which have been developed by the creative geniuses at Cirque du Soleil. We have been honored to call Cirque our partner for many years and are humbled now by the opportunity to work with them to create a show that will commemorate one of the most legendary forces in entertainment in our lifetime." (Robin Leach has out-of-news-release commentary from Hornbuckle on Vegas DeLuxe.)

As to where this show might actually land, a quick scan of the Cirque-Mirage universe — and this admittedly is a very early assessment of where Cirque du Michael might be staged — does provide some clues.

To launch a new show at a hotel where Cirque is already in place, an existing production would have to close. This is obvious. If the decision were to be made today, it's highly unlikely "Love" at The Mirage or "O" at Bellagio would be shut down (the instinctive reaction, still, is to cast an eye to "Mystere," Cirque's first resident production in Vegas, but Treasure Island is now owned by Phil Ruffin, not MGM Mirage).

"O" and "Love" long have been two of Cirque's most successful and acclaimed productions. Shutting down productions such as "Zumanity" at New York-New York and "Ka" at MGM Mirage would require millions in theater renovations to bring in a completely new Cirque show, costs MGM Mirage would want to resist to supplant existing productions.

By 2012, "Viva Elvis" at Aria might still be taking shape, and it's hard to fathom Cirque and MGM Mirage would already be planning on shutting down a show dedicated to Elvis in a partnership with Elvis Presley Enterprises that opened just four months ago.

Among existing Cirque shows at MGM Mirage hotels, that leaves Criss Angel's embattled "Believe" at Luxor. Angel is still meeting the minimum nightly attendance requirement to remain onstage as the frontman for this ill-conceived Cirque-TV illusionist experiment. Who knows, maybe Angel can be bought out of his contract (and that would cost millions, folks) to make room for Cirque du Jackson. But there are other options for the Jackson production at MGM Mirage hotels that don't partner with Cirque — yet.

One is Monte Carlo, which coincidentally finds itself absent its primary headline with the impending departure of master magician Lance Burton from the theater named for him for more than a decade. Frank Caliendo is performing there now, in a spacious, beautiful, classic showroom.

The other is at Mandalay Bay, where "Disney's The Lion King" has supplanted "Mamma Mia!" In the days before Disney began talks in earnest with MGM Mirage, it was expected, around the time Angel entered rehearsals for "Believe," that Mandalay Bay Theatre would be home to a Cirque show once we all finally tired of ABBA. The Cirque show did not happen, of course, but the concept of closing "The Lion King" to make room for Cirque du Michael has to be a possibility until someone in authority at MGM says it isn't.

There also is the remote possibility of a build-out for a new theater at Excalibur. There was a time when it was conceivable Cirque would put a family-themed show in the Ex-Cal as a counter to "Zumanity." That time was at least five years ago. That time is not "today."

Read into all of that what you will, Cirque fans.

Following are additional comments released this morning:

Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil: "Michael Jackson is the King of Pop and an all-time phenomenal artist, both timeless and contemporary. As a creative challenge, this project is the ultimate. Through the use of cutting-edge technology, we will produce a Cirque du Soleil experience not only worthy of Michael but unlike any other we have created before. We are also so pleased that our longtime partner MGM Mirage has once again joined us in presenting another unique creative experience in Las Vegas."

John McClain, co-executor for the Estate of Michael Jackson: "There will never be a multifaceted entrepreneur, humanitarian and innovator like Michael, and it is only befitting that this partnership be with Cirque du Soleil. No artist electrified the stage more than Michael did. We expect that his fans will come away from these Cirque du Soleil performances feeling the exhilaration of a Michael Jackson experience and with an even greater appreciation of his legacy."

Katherine Jackson, mother of Michael Jackson: "Our family is thrilled that Cirque du Soleil will pay tribute to my son in such an important way."

Given all this lavish verbosity, we expect nothing but pure, untrammeled brilliance from this show. Guessing how Cirque will deal with the unique brilliance of Michael Jackson should be half the fun.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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