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October 21, 2014

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Review: ‘Immortal’ will keep Michael Jackson’s legacy alive

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Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. The world premiere of Immortal was in Montreal, the location of Cirque headquarters, on Oct. 2, 2011.

Robin Leach's Vegas DeLuxe

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Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour

Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. The world premiere of Immortal was in Montreal, the location of Cirque headquarters, on Oct. 2, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour: Red Carpet

The red carpet for Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour in Montreal on Oct. 2, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Michael Jackson's Immortal

MONTREAL, Quebec -- The late King of Pop is onstage throughout the two-hour spectacular Michael Jackson’s The Immortal World Tour. His voice, songs, music and even conversations are very real, and you don’t feel shortchanged that he’s not there in person. Cirque du Soleil miraculously solved the problem of “the missing star” because they’ve preserved his memory thanks to unique treatments of video, including material from the This Is It show rehearsals in Los Angeles that ended the proposed London run because of his death.

You certainly realize that Michael is looking down on this insanely impeccable production, if not actually being its director and star from afar.

Cirque lists 24 musical scenes with 60-plus -- maybe 70 -- songs integrated into the nonstop thriller of a two-hour ride, among them “Childhood,” “Wanna Be Starting Something,” “Dancing Machine,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Dangerous,” “Thriller,” “Beat It,” “They Don’t Care About Us,” “Heal the World” and “Man in the Mirror.” The near finale is a mega-mix with “Can You Feel It,” “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” “Billie Jean” and “Black or White,” which came right on the heels of “Heal the World” and “Will You be There?”

“Bring plenty of tissues -- you will cry from the experience,” musical director Greg Phillinganes promised me. His treatment of “Gone Too Soon” is obviously the most touching emotional moment. He was able to use Michael’s vocals for the wide range of up-and-down tender moods to fiery excitement with his live 15-piece band. Just seeing and hearing Michael solo on video for “I’ll Be There” and his “chat” to the audience about the importance of love and peace will send a gamut of feelings up and down your spine.

The show is structured with two stages: the more traditional theater setup at one end of the arena and a smaller circular stage on the arena floor connected by an escalator-styled walkway that connects the two in both directions.

“I wanted the entire audience to see every aspect of the show by using two stages,” director and choreographer Jamie King explained to me. “We move the action between the two, but it never stops on either one. The upper stage with the band provides the main backdrop, and the individual artists get to shine on the circular one.”

And shine they do, as only Cirque can make them. The one-legged acrobatic dancer is incredible beyond words, and he uses a crutch better than an athlete with two limbs. If Simon Cowell launched World’s Got Talent, this guy would win it hands down.

Then there’s twin brothers Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, who lead the five Fanatics as entertainer guides through the thin storyline of Michael’s childhood to modern-day solo success. At first, I feared the lack of a single storyline would become the glue undone, but Michael’s musical message holds it all together.

Fans won’t be disappointed; they’ll get more than they ever thought possible:

*The giant hat, dancing shoes with white socks and white glove that come to life with the dancers is a wonderful memory of The King of Pop.

*The exploding lights from performers who appear to vanish into the galaxy of the night sky and stars is a “Human Nature,” stop-’em-in-their-tracks number with agile athletes all over the stage from ceiling downward into the arena.

*The opening number with dancers propelled skyward on water from exploding fire hydrants is just the first punch in a night of knockouts. They are simply stunning experts of the art of body movement.

*Only Cirque could pull off a two-hour spectacle with a white-suited mime as the silent guide. But no ordinary Marcel Marceau mime -- this one is a contortionist, a hip-hop dancer and probably the only guy to have Michael’s moves down to maybe even a shade better, if that’s possible, than the man himself.

*The bikini-topped electronic cellist and guitarist will obviously get their own headline act and record deal. They are breathtaking and breathless.

*The pole dancer at the circular arena floor stage is a redheaded knockout and perfect to illustrate “Dangerous.” In fact, all of Michael’s music is a perfect backdrop for Cirque’s skills, especially in the breathtakingly beautiful aerial ballet.

Tito Jackson agreed with me backstage: “It’s a wonderful marriage of great creativity. It not only brings Michael’s brilliance back to life but gives it a whole new lease.” Jackie added: “It made us want to get up there and play and make music again. Maybe we will in Vegas one day have a reunion and bring it back. Never say never.” The family leaves Montreal today to fly to Britain for this weekend’s tribute concert in Cardiff, Wales, that will be streamed on Facebook.

The set at center stage is Michael’s Giving Tree from Neverland. It provides the life and soul of the show and turns into spiderlike legs for the white-tuxedoed zombies for “Thriller.” In the military number, the mass of marching soldiers merged into video of thousands of them has Michael’s message with peace signs illuminated on their chests. The cast appears throughout the show in the arena racing down aisles and climbing up stairs to hold balls of glowing hearts. It’s a 3D-plus experience!

The acrobats are astounding, taking on the role of urban street royalty who won the Best Dance Crew World Championships. The Jabbawockeez at our Monte Carlo have some stiff competition from these gold-suited rivals. They swing high above the audience in death-defying acrobatics. They tumble onto trampolines from the Giving Tree. They leap and fall from the center circular stage as the best Cirque has ever produced or discovered. A hot-air Neverland balloon floats across the arena.

It’s got the sizzle -- and more -- that you would expect from Cirque and Michael. It’s even got his favorite chimp Bubbles, who gets his own solo spot high atop the main stage before coming down to the circular floor one as part of the majestic finale.

Michael always said “dare to dream” and “believe.” Cirque took his advice and did just that. Jamie and his 10-person choreography team have captured The King of Pop’s tremendous talent and skilled spirit. Immortal will keep his legacy alive now and forever.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

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