There is no bigger, more influential, culture-shifting entertainer than Michael Jackson. Alive or gone…no one. So whenever there is a chance to experience an MJ history-themed jam, you better be there. The good folks at the heralded performance show, Cirque du Soleil: Michael Jackson ONE, provided just that experience for VIBE, in celebration of MJ’s birthday and 3-year show anniversary. Located in the main level of Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Hotel, the MJ ONE show takes the energy of Jackson’s legendary musical hits and smashes the tunes with futuristic flipping, flying and acrobatic Cirque du Soleil gymnasts and dancers, making it a visual masterpiece honoring the international icon’s life.
The show’s creation was a long time coming as my frequent visits to Vegas found me strolling by the theater where construction was being done. Following the impressive run of Disney’s The Lion King musical, MJ ONE had some high standards to hit. After the lengthy business aspects were cleared, elements of the production materialized in early December 2012, with the main stage being finalized around mid-February 2013. All came together just in time for the show’s opening and the celebration of MJ’s impending 54th birthday.
If you’re thinking of going to see the show, I will say this: MJ ONE is the amalgamation of sensory overload. It’s a mixture of illuminated lights, floating objects, torpedoed bodies, loud vocals, magic tricks, out of this world fearless feats all wrapped together in rhythm and nostalgia. I was fortunate enough to see the show a few weeks after its June 29th, 2013 debut and was blown away by its awesomeness. But this past August, I realized that I had returned to a revamped and even more triumphant treasure.
Understanding the technical aspects of what goes on behind the scenes only exemplifies the greatness that hits the audience during showtime. The focus on sound isn’t spared in the least. Every audio wave is engineered for the theater’s 1,804 plush seats, which are outfitted with custom built-in speakers to amplify MJ’s hits. Thanks to Aaron Beck, the head of audio at MJ ONE, your feet and head will tap and bop respectfully. At various times, you’ll hear the pings and pongs of the live wire instruments in the classics as MJ croons, making you thank your personal chair speakers for that.
While you may attend for the seminal songs, it’s the lost-then-found spirit of unity storyline that will capture your attention. To bring the theme to life, Kurt McCormick handles the laser works and tracking technology. This is important as the lighting is a huge element in the show and helps drive the dreamland scenes to higher heights, especially when “Man In The Mirror” rocks out. Without giving away one of the most spectacular surprises of MJ ONE, Robert Foster, Head of Animation notes, “Over 1000 shows and you still hear the gasps when it’s shown.” Marinate on that for a few.
To get the full immersive feel of the MJ ONE workload, the production crew took my press group through it all. Yes, they treated us like employees and took us behind the scenes. We learned dance routines, prepped on the stagehand machines and even saw how the wardrobe and styling for hair and makeup come to life.
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Then we got a first-hand experience of the performers’ workout session, which keeps all 63 of them loose and limber for the nearly 2-hour sweat fest and performance. The trainer explained how planks, squats and quick bursts of movement (i.e. multi-position burpees) are important to keep stamina and pacing high, yet fatigue and injury low. We eventually moved on to choreography that twisted a few ankles in our group. Of course, I was smooth sailing, with moves like MJ himself! Don’t believe me? Just watch…
During the weekend I had to learn some #MJOne show choreography. Here I am practicing the moves before we put all the signature pieces together with two cast members. We couldn’t record with the “Man In The Mirror” music, but we sure did dance to it for the final. MJ would be proud. @delanoVegas #HappyBdayMJ #MichaelJackson #IshouldaMoonwalkedAtTheEnd
Next, we headed over to wardrobe and witnessed how the shimmering glitter gets on to the jackets, pants and sneakers of the cast. With MJ having such distinct gear cues, the styling team incorporated the aesthetic from all of the videos and live performances MJ did over the years into the garments. Yet, they made sure things lit up and flashed, but were functional and breathable (which is super important).
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Getting the dancers comfortable is top priority, so much that they switched from wearing Nike Air Force 1s (which were a bit bulky and heavy for dancing) to the footwork friendly Nike Air Max 90s (all white, of course). Every pair is altered to have lace covers that are jazzed up to match the snazzy suits that the high-flying Cirque crew shimmy in. Zaldy, the head designer, always has their best interest in mind. As for the hair and makeup aspect, the crew gets tutorials from professionals stylists who assist them until they all master the skills well enough to do them on their own.
There is so much to run down. My level of respect for the little details that they stress over is now sky high. I’m sure to return for a third time so that ONE‘s musical director, Kevin Antunes can make me dance and sing to my favorite MJ jams (which I won’t list as I want you to enjoy the show without knowing what’s on the playlist. It’s better that way).
I believe Michael Jackson would be proud to know that the meticulous tailoring of his talent has been transferred well by so many (including his choreographers, brothers Rich and Tone Talauega) wanting to get his life’s work across incredibly to the people he loved the most – his fans.