With a verse from “Somebody’s Watching Me,” you can’t say that Immortal doesn’t dig into Michael Jackson’s career. (Also, apparently, Rockwell’s career.) So deep, in fact, that Bubbles the Chimp is a major part of the show and there’s a scene when some Cirque performer has to set aside whatever modicum of dignity he or she had, dress up like a giant sequined glove and dance around. To say nothing of the twin dancers who prance as Jackson’s loafers. (What is it with Cirque and their obsession with giant shoes?) It’s at that moment that we realized that Cirque, mad on power, just now directly stages whatever Guy Laliberté sees on his most recent desert-bound peyote trip. It also means that Immortal is clearly the most hilarious Cirque show, even if inadvertently.
Here’s the cut-to-the-chase version of how we, and we suspect most people, will experience the show: NotThriller, notThriller, notThriller, notThriller, hey! It’s “Thriller,” notThriller, notThriller, notThriller, finally, “Beat It”—OK, 40 seconds of “Beat It” anyway. NotThriller, notThriller, notThriller aaaaaaaand … notThriller.
The biggest problem with Immortal is that it tries so desperately hard to position Jackson as a Christ figure who, on the back of his mangled childhood came to us with a message of love and unity before dying for our sins. Gone is the talented pop singer who sold a lot of Pepsi, who at best had a questionable relationship with kids, and who died because of his questionable relationship with anesthesia. And that’s fine, really, if that’s the narrative they want to take. It’s just that when you’re pushing “Heal the World,” it doesn’t leave much room for “Bad” and “Beat It.” Which is a shame, because we were really, really hoping for the first wrist-bound knife fight in Cirque’s history.
Song choice is kind of a no-win situation for Cirque. If they push the hits, everyone says they’re going too obvious. If they dig for the deep cuts, like they did with this show, it leaves an audience filing up the stairs muttering, “‘Jam?’ Really? Did any of us know that Michael Jackson wrote a song about basketball?” Also, is it more or less surprising that they chose to incorporate a stripper pole routine into one of the songs, considering the first thing we all think of when we think of Michael Jackson is a dude who loved strippers?
At least for this, there’s more MJ in Immortal than there is Elvis in Viva. But aside from an extended “Thriller” jam, too many of the biggest hits get the short shrift to make room for the likes of “Black and White.” To be fair, at least that gave Cirque a reason to show Macaulay Culkin footage. It’s been a long time coming, ever since the Good Son scene was excised from Zumanity.