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July 25, 2014

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‘Michael Jackson One’ at Mandalay Bay: ‘It’s the biggest and best of Cirque to date’

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

A sneak peek of Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson One” at Mandalay Bay on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

Michael Jackson One

When King of Pop Michael Jackson was alive, he was a true fan and strong supporter of Cirque du Soleil shows. If he had chosen anybody to stage his life story, it would have been the French-Canadian theatrical circus company. Despite his death, Cirque successfully staged a massive world-touring arena show, “Michael Jackson — The Immortal World Tour,” and now gets ready to unwrap “Michael Jackson One” as its eighth headliner show on the Strip.

“Michael was a huge fan of Cirque,” said The Estate of Michael Jackson lawyer John Branca at Tuesday’s media sneak preview at Mandalay Bay, where it begins previews May 23 and has its world premiere June 29. “He and I went to the very first Cirque tent show together in Santa Monica in 1988. He brought his kids regularly to see all the Cirque shows, too,” John told me.

“This new show captures Michael in vocals, in dance and his message. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be here with us, but he is in a sense. You feel Michael in this show. Berry Gordy (founder of Motown Records) called him the greatest entertainer who ever lived. This show captures that excitement. The Michael fan, the Cirque fan and any fan of dance or theater are going to love this show.

“He would be thrilled with this. It’s the biggest and best of Cirque to date. We are all thrilled, as it is the ultimate tribute to Michael Jackson at maximum power. This is Michael’s Cirque in 4D with steroids.

“I can’t wait for the world to see the whole show because there are some pretty incredible surprises they’re keeping secret until the curtain goes up. I have been to two full run-throughs so far. It’s amazing the progress made each week. It’s about 60 percent done, and now the most amazing levels of video and lighting effects get added.”

Welby Altidor, Cirque’s director of creation, told me: “Michael has been our inspiration throughout the creation and the process. We kept imaging each step if he would feel honored by it, inspired by it. For us, it really was being inspired by his music, his spirit, what he stood for in the songs. We try to carry forward that legacy for Michael.

'Michael Jackson One' Sneak Peek at Mandalay Bay

A sneak peek of Cirque du Soleil's Launch slideshow »

Sneak Peek of 'Michael Jackson One'

Dancers and acrobats perform during a sneak preview of the Launch slideshow »

“We realize there are now eight Cirque shows in Las Vegas, almost 20 around the world. Cirque wants them all to be healthy and successful. We have elements in the show that makes it really different from what is already out there. The Cirque element is obviously there, but the way we are exploring the incredible dance movements and the acrobatics mixes it up in a very different way. We have the incredible vocabulary of dance with Michael, and that’s unique and a signature in and unto itself.

“We take all of Michael’s elements of movement, performance and dance and add the acrobatics to put together a new type of fusion. This is what will make this show stand out from the other offerings. This is so much a theater show. It’s a theatergoing experience. We want to give the audience a more intimate experience with Michael’s music. It’s pure theater, and his sound is incredibly pristine in this space.

“We have had unprecedented access to the masters. We have been able to really bring out all those hidden gems that were in the music itself. So the intimate experience of his videos, his dance, his movement up close was something that the theater space could offer us. Here we control that space to have the audiences more immersed so they really feel Michael, feel his presence from much closer. Those were the two big objectives that we wanted, and it’s been exciting achieving that.”

Mandalay Bay President Chuck Bowling knows that it’s a big gamble because he wants his rooms filled with tourists and groups and his conventions packed with everybody wanting to see “Michael Jackson One.”

“Today was all about making sure you see the differences between this show and the others. Instead of just coming to see a show, this is a show you experience. You only saw four scenes of the 26 scenes in the production. We wanted to introduce some new artistry that hasn’t been seen on the Strip before. By May 23, you will see and hear many more of his hits, more involvement of Michael. Whether you are in the front row or the back row, you will have that experience. You take away the real feel of Michael instead of just saying that you heard him.

“That experience starts from the moment you buy a ticket to the time you walk into the theater until you leave. It is an experience. Everything we do and touch is an experience in this home for Michael Jackson. We installed all the new seating with speakers in front of your seat, behind your seat, from the stage and all the way around — the music is perfection.

“We also created a second ceiling to the theater so that characters will be flying above and around the audience. The theater now projects what they wanted to have — the importance of the audience being immersed inside the show.

“This is a show that is going to transcend all audiences. He is an artist that is so well respected around the world. The music and the unique acrobatics were only an introduction today. There were some new ones that haven’t been seen around the world. People will come here to see it, listen to it, marvel at the music, experience terrific technology they haven’t seen before. Even if you are not an avid Michael Jackson fan, and we know that there are 40 million Facebook followers, we think that people will say ‘Michael Jackson One’ is the best show. I think this has a great shot to be the No. 1 show in Las Vegas and, therefore, the world.

Click to enlarge photo

Robin Leach interviews Jamie King at Mandalay Bay on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

The show’s writer and director, Jamie King, who also conceived “Immortal,” had the last words: “If you have seen things never seen in a Cirque show, that means we have done our job. We have done it the way that Michael would have wanted it to be done — new, fresh and entertaining.

“It wasn’t easy to create a second Michael Jackson show. Wipe out everything in my mind that I’d already created and kept in a compartment of the brain somewhere. I had to forget it. Our characters here suck us into the world of Michael. They get his hat, his shoes, the glove, and wearing them comes with special magical powers — Michael powers, if you will, that transform them throughout the show.

“I hope we have done the show he would have done himself. I hope it is the show he would have wanted. I feel we have a great balance between Cirque and the rock star Michael. Mixing those worlds together works. He was a kind of a guide in ‘Moonwalk.’ He loved the mix of fantasy and rock and roll, so that balance is here.

“I don’t know the exact financial numbers to say it’s the most expensive. But it’s certainly the most ambitious. What I know about Michael is he always said you never listen to the word ‘no.’ In fact, challenge the word ‘no’!

“I think the show reminds us that he was the greatest entertainer of all time. Michael is our guide into his world. We are in his mind. We are on a journey that only he could take us on. It reminds us of the great entertainer, the great man and the great humanitarian that Michael was.

“If audiences hear Michael’s message about all of us being One, we have achieved what we set out for — it will be a celebration of his life all over again.”

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.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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