As the lights dim inside the theater and the audience finishes taking their seats, the air takes on a hint of magic, of sparkle, of excitement. There’s a sense that we’re not exactly sure what we’re about to experience, and yet there’s an exhilarating feeling of not wanting to miss a single moment of the adventure.
A team of would-be paparazzi cameramen suddenly appears, seemingly bent on capturing each audience member in their web of greed and corruption. They weave their way in and out of aisles and rows, relentlessly hunting their prey. It’s our first glimpse into Michael’s world, as we realize he had to deal with this sort of harassment on a daily basis.
As the paparazzi trolls the audience, we notice three kids…..or are they young adults….who seem to have materialized out of the air. They seem to be lost, unable to find a place to sit. They climb over rows of seats, catch everyone’s attention, and then end up on the stage where they’re immediately accosted by the paparazzi and chased away. At this point, their presence makes sense. They’re misfits who don’t feel as though they belong anywhere. They couldn’t find a place in the audience, they aren’t welcome on-stage, and all they have is each other. We’re left wondering if the magic and sparkle in the air will be able to guide them toward a place where they do indeed belong.
The announcement is made that the show is about to begin, and it almost feels as though we should be reaching for our seatbelts to prepare for the ride. After all, freefalling into Michael’s world won’t be easy or smooth. After all, his world was fraught with a myriad of emotions that ran the gamut from ecstasy and joy to fear and frustration. Nothing in Michael’s life was never easy. Nothing, that is, except for his music and his dance.
The show begins, and we’re hurtled at break-neck speed into the wonderment and the creativity that defined Michael’s existence. He saw music and art everywhere he looked, and so do we. From the amazing dancers and acrobats to the giant screens that display Michael’s image, we’re well and truly immersed in his art. We have opened a window into his creative process, and we’re watching the master at work.
Trying to watch everything, trying to take it all in, trying to capture the experience….is just not possible. It’s just so much so fast, each scene even more creative and moving than the last, until there’s nothing left to do but let it wash over us. Michael’s movements were once described by the famed film director Martin Scorsese as “like watching quicksilver in motion”. This production gave me the same feeling. I was watching a performance that was on a level Michael himself would have appreciated.
Michael was very much into symbolism, and one of my favorite parts of the show is very symbolic. Stranger in Moscow shows what to me appears to be a beggar boy who is on a rope, and who appears to have to perpetually find the strength to hang on and keep moving. Knowing what Michael was going through at that point in his life, I felt it was a very fitting image. The accompanying snow that the audience gets to feel adds to the feeling of cold, dark isolation.
A nod to Michael’s keen interest in innovation and Cirque’s respect and admiration for his trademark song makes Billie Jean my other favorite scene. I remember from the very beginning, when we first heard about this show, wondering how they were going to do that song justice when Michael’s not here to perform it. I couldn’t imagine anyone else even coming close to performing it the way Michael did. To my great delight, no one does. The “light-up” costumes designed by Zaldy take center stage. They’re preceded by whole vignette of scenes of Michael performing Billie Jean in concert. It’s as though we’re watching him for the first time all over again. When the costumes take over, it’s a tribute he would have loved. Creative, eye-catching, innovative, and at times even whimsical.
The rest of the show is a cacophony of sights and sounds, of messages both written and spoken, of love and acceptance. Not a moment goes by that we’re not drawn in and entertained. Michael once said he wanted to bring escape and enjoyment to people. With this show, with the addition of Cirque’s vision to his own, he’s still bringing hope and healing and happiness to the world. He’s still challenging people to look beyond what they’ve come to expect of the world, themselves, and each other, and see the possibilities that exist. Most importantly, he’s imploring each of us to see that “We’re all ONE”.