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Cirque du Soleil celebrates the King of Pop

- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 18, 2011

DETROIT — Michael Jackson long has been intertwined with the Beatles and Elvis Presley.

In addition to his standing as a fellow all-time, chart-topping music legend, the late King of Pop also owned a substantial share of the publishing rights to the Beatles' back catalog, and he married Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie.

Now, Jackson is being mentioned with the Fab Four and the King for yet another reason: His life and music are being celebrated as theirs were with a Cirque du Soleil show.

"Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour" made its U.S. debut Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, only a handful of miles from the old Motown Records headquarters where Jackson got his start as a member of the Jackson 5.

And like "The Beatles Love" and "Viva Elvis" shows, the two-hour Jackson-themed performance is designed to give audience members the flair and showmanship of Cirque coupled with the flair and showmanship of a Michael Jackson concert.

"Michael was a performer that was not just music. He was dance. He was cinema. He had a humanitarian side," said Kevin Antunes, the show's musical designer. "So, you can take all of that and put it all into the show. That's where I think the difference is."

The eye-popping, high-wire acrobatics and elaborate costuming that are a hallmark of any Cirque show are of course present, but there are a multitude of Jackson-specific touches.

Oversized versions of his signature accessories - glove and penny loafers - come to life during a rocking version of "Beat It," and airborne performers wearing LED suits light up the darkened arena to the strains of "Human Nature."

Jackson's best-known and loved dance moves are all there, too.

The Cirque performers do the patented "Smooth Criminal" lean-forward during a noirish, gangster-themed segment, and the first half of the show concludes with a rousing performance of "Thriller," which features the famous zombie boogie from the video in a Cirqued-up graveyard.

And of course, the moonwalk is represented, not only on stage, but on the massive video screens behind it, where footage of the man himself is displayed throughout the show.

The show's writer/director, Jamie King, knows a thing or two about Jackson, having started his music career as a backup dancer on the 1990s "Dangerous" tour. Mr. King said he "really wanted to create something that Michael would be proud of."

"It's not a biography-type show. It's really an artistic interpretation of Michael's life - Michael the man, Michael the artist," Mr. King said. "With Cirque on board, we already know it's going to be magical. With Michael's songs and what Michael stood for, it's already going to be huge."

That's where Mr. Antunes comes in.

Mr. Antunes, a longtime musical director and digital audio programmer who has worked in various capacities for artists ranging from Madonna and Justin Timberlake to Aerosmith and Jackson's sister, Janet, was given unique access to the pop legend's original multitrack master recordings and charged by Mr. King to create the musical backdrop for the show.

He spent a year redesigning and re-imagining dozens of Jackson's greatest original recordings. The result is Jackson's remixed vocals set to the music of a live band.

Epic Records on Nov. 21 will release "Immortal," which comes as both a double CD version or as a single disc. The double-disc offering features 37 tracks in all, condensing more than 40 of Jackson's greatest original recordings into a compilation that allows listeners to experience his music in a new way.

"Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour" will stop in Baltimore in May and the District in July.

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