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Review: 'Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour' proves all too fallible

Posted 11:56pm on Tuesday, Jun. 26, 2012

Nothing will make you miss Michael Jackson more than sitting through Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour.

Jackson, who died three years ago at the too-young age of 50, has widely and thoroughly hailed as a singular talent, one of those once-in-a-generation types that simply change the game for all involved. Despite his untimely passing, Jackson nevertheless left behind a significant legacy and catalog underscoring his place in the pop pantheon.

In conjunction with Jackson's estate, Cirque du Soleil has created the 110-minute Immortal, which aspires to do for the performer what the Canadian avant-garde troupe did for the Beatles (2006's Love) and Elvis (2010's Viva Elvis). The tour kicked off its two-night at the American Airlines Center Tuesday; the final performance is set for Wednesday night.

Set upon an expansive stage, riddled with video monitors and featuring a live band, Immortal is every inch a high-dollar, top-shelf production (after this current tour wraps next year, Immortal will be slightly re-tooled and set up permanent camp in Las Vegas). While some of the mash-ups and moments of athletic choreography are truly breathtaking, far too much of Immortal is befuddling when it should be transfixing, brash when it should be restrained. The production also recycles elements from the aborted This Is It tour, namely involving Smooth Criminal and They Don't Care About Us, previously glimpsed in the 2009 documentary of the same name.

Written and directed by Jamie King, who has collaborated with other pop royalty like Rihanna and Britney Spears, Immortal has the loosest of narratives -- a kind of biography welded onto fantastical vignettes, inspired by Jackson's songs. Immortal is downright dazzling in spots -- the aerial ballet conducting during a blend of You Are Not Alone and I Just Can't Stop Loving You is stunning, as is an LED-assisted flurry of movement during Human Nature -- but you're often left wishing for something to ground all the grandeur.

Which is where the absence of Jackson, whose visage and voice are plastered everywhere throughout, becomes most acutely felt. For all the spectacle he could conjure around him, he was most powerful when he was at his most minimal. The moments everyone clings to and remembers were just him: the moonwalk, his signature "hoo!" or his wondrously fluid movements in any number of music videos were often accomplished with no special effects at all. Michael Jackson never needed anything other than himself to make us gaze upon him in awe.

To that end, the Cirque du Soleil performers work overtime to conjure the same sense of wonder. But bizarre notions like a life-size dancing sequined glove (really?!) and the awkward inclusion of Bubbles the chimp, clad in overalls, feel like unnecessary camp, a distraction from the artistry of a legend. What's more, the show is designed to thoroughly mash emotional buttons and rub the audience's face in the fact that Jackson can't perform this material himself. (We'll leave out the truly head-scratching choice to use such wrenching video images of violence and strife underneath They Don't Care About Us, which felt like a sledgehammer blow following all the floating fanciful setpieces.)

And truthfully, much of the audience Tuesday was simply there to revel in Jackson's music, making all the elaborate presentation seem almost secondary. Fedoras, spangled gloves and Thriller jackets abounded, demonstrating his continued influence even after his death. It was choice irony: The man and his art is most certainly immortal, but the show designed to celebrate it, and claiming to be, is anything but.

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