Resurrecting Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson dies. You happen to run Cirque du Soleil. How cool would it be to set a Cirque show of astounding acrobatics and costumes to the music and style of Michael Jackson, one spectacle deserving another?

But that’s not what Cirque did. They made Michael Jackson: The Immortal, performed at the Target Center through March 28, a hodge-podge of elaborate but half-baked vignettes that even on the page should have triggered some alarms. The line-up reads like a breathless fan’s brainstorming session, not a fully formed concept. First, a scene at the Neverland gates! Then a factory scene! And of course we have to do Thriller! Ooh, and something about his pet monkey! And swans. And robots. And…. No, you just needed to play the music and let the contortionists do the rest.

There is far more dancing than acrobatics here and much of it is marvelous, including several inspired numbers with lit-up costumes. But after seeing MJ’s signature moves several times you’re ready for some of Cirque’s own magic. But, save for an astounding pole-dancer and a spidery contortionist that slithers out of a giant book, it’s not forthcoming. In the past, Cirque’s quirky, Gallic imagination has made much of vague concepts like water or bugs. Here, it takes a very specific concept—Michael Jackson—and makes less.

Alas, it’s a rock show, not a circus, but one without its star. As if to make up for that obvious absence, there are enough explosions, fireworks, video montages, and flashing lights to make Lada Gaga blush (if that’s possible). And the music, played loud enough to raise Jackson from the dead, becomes just one more brick in the sensory wall.

Strangely, the producers seized upon some of the oddest elements in an odd life: Neverland, for starters, along with his Jackson’s pet monkey, which dances throughout the show—things many fans may have preferred to forget. But the show seems determined to sanctify Jackson, which leads to some awkward moments, including a “save the earth” scene (does anyone remember Jackson as a particularly vocal or effective environmentalist?), some cheesy hero worship (“I will never leave you!”), and attempts to make Jackson’s occasional and banal statements on truth, justice, and living your dream seem profound.

Jackson was a weird dude. Great showman. But weird. Cirque could have left it at that. Which makes you wonder if his estate exacted the toll of fawning revisionism as the cost of using his music and image. If so, it may have been too high a price.