CHARLOTTE — Don Boyette was hand-picked by Michael Jackson to play bass guitar on the Bad and Dangerous tours. Since Cirque du Soleils Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour is creating an experience of Jacksons music, Boyette was a natural choice to play in the live band.
How does playing the songs without Jackson compare?
Its completely different because hes not here, Boyette said. The level of integrity, its hard to compare. But at the same time, this particular show is something Michael wouldve wanted.
The live music is what carries the show.
It had to feel a certain way, Boyette said.
In mid March, The State was given a set tour at the Time Warner Cable Arena. A few days earlier, THE IMMORTAL had its 100th show in Raleigh.
Its the biggest (Cirque) touring arena show and the best selling, said Maxime Charbonneau, a Cirque publicist and our tour guide.
Industrial fans were blowing air onto costumes hanging in road cases. The cases themselves, placed side-by-side, formed makeshift dressing rooms for quick costume changes. In the empty arena, They Dont Care About Us played through the speakers as dancers, marching like soldiers, worked on a routine on the multi-level stage. The scene is repurposed choreography from This is It, the string of concerts Jackson was planning before he died in June 2009.
A catwalk allows the shows action to extend deep into the audience and multiple LED screens project images from Jacksons life and career. (Fortunately, there isnt a Michael Jackson hologram yet.) A replica of the gilded gates of Neverland, Jacksons former ranch home, opens the show.
The costumes from the dancers Tron-like LED suits to blown-out afros are handled by the wardrobe department. Theyre easy to spot, what with scissors, pens and glue guns holstered to their waists. As one wardrobe assistant patted an afro wig into shape, another was using a steamer to style a curly-haired wig. It has to be done before every performance because the synthetic fibers stretch.
Theres an attractive visual component to the show, but there isnt a narrative like other Cirque productions.
Theres not much of a story, Charbonneau said. Its more of a presentation of music.
Kevin Antunes, the musical designer, was given access to master recordings so he could extract Jacksons vocals. It gives the show added punch with the live accompaniment.
During the performance Boyette, one of five musicians who played with Jackson, is positioned with others on the stages highest level, what is called the barbecue deck. (Its called that because if youre playing on the black steel surface outdoors in the summer, youre going to cook like barbecue.)
The producers have taken some musical liberties, like adding a percussionist in Taku Hirano. According to Hirano, who plays conga, tambourine and finger snaps in songs like Man in the Mirror, a lot of the sound he creates was once generated by sequencers.
Anything I can cover live, they want me to, said Hirano, who is essential for the fills on Human Nature. I cant mess up. Its inherent to the song.
Tara Young (Tar-ah, not Terra, shell tell you), the artistic director, said the shows thread is a celebration of Jackson and his music.
You will really feel inspired after seeing this show, she said.
And you dont have to be a Jackson fan. If youve seen Jackson in concert or even the concert film This is It, released posthumously you know that he had a singular magnetism on stage. Theres a mime, who, according to production notes, is said to inhabit Jacksons spirit, but he cant possibly command the stage like Jackson.
There are plenty of routines, like the lean motion during Smooth Criminal, that invoke Jacksons superior dancing skills. The audience hears Michael Jackson, but it wouldve been nice to see him portrayed on the stage.
There are less acrobatic displays than Alegria, the Cirque production that was at the arena last April, but that doesnt mean there arent jaw-dropping performances. Watch out for Jean Sok, who dances on one leg with the aid of crutches.
His performance alone was inspiring.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.