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Michael Jackson estate teams with Cirque du Soleil

They plan a touring show and a related reality TV show, plus a permanent Las Vegas production.

April 21, 2010|By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times

Michael Jackson's estate and Cirque du Soleil will collaborate on a series of projects designed to extend the late pop star's legacy across several media, chief among them a reality TV show tied to a concert-style touring production and a permanent show in Las Vegas akin to existing Cirque productions built around the music of the Beatles and Elvis Presley.

The parties say that the collaboration recognizes Jackson's longtime fascination with Cirque's signature blend of music, dance and theatrical spectacle.

"We went to the very first Cirque du Soleil tent show opening in Santa Monica," John Branca, co-executor of Jackson's estate, said Tuesday. "It was in the late '80s, and I'll never forget it …. [We] drove to Santa Monica together — no bodyguards — and we sat there in the front row. Michael was dazzled, and we went backstage after the show because he wanted to meet all the performers. It was a very passionate evening."

The reality show, intended to air early next year, would be along the lines of "American Idol" and "Dancing With the Stars," created as a platform for discovering a choreographer to help develop the touring and permanent shows built on Jackson's music, dancing and life story.

Budding dance enthusiasts from across the globe would audition in the search for "someone young, who is cutting-edge, from the outside, from the streets, who can bring that style that no one's ever seen before, like Michael always did," Branca said.

The Cirque deal is yet another step in an aggressive series of grand-scale projects Jackson's estate has undertaken in recent months. Among them are the concert film and DVD "This Is It," featuring rehearsal footage for a planned London concert series from shortly before his death last June; and a new long-term contract with Sony Music, said to be worth as much as $250 million, covering reissues as well as new compilations of previously unissued recordings and potentially video games.

The cross-platform philosophy will be central to what Jackson's estate and Cirque creators are constructing to ensure the King of Pop's legend lives on.

"One thing is clear for us," Cirque President and CEO Daniel Lamarre said Tuesday. "As Michael Jackson was ahead of his time, we have to be ahead of our time with this show. We have to use all the technology there is, and develop new technologies with those two shows to create a breakthrough as Michael did when he was touring. The pressure is very, very big on us to deliver on his fans' expectations."

The idea for the TV show, in the discussion stage, grew out of the planning for the arena tour and the permanent show in Vegas. The partners in the venture plan to hire three choreographers to create dance routines on a par with what Jackson employed on his own tours. The plan is to hire two professionals and then, through the reality show, find the third.The winner will join the team assembling the arena tour and the permanent show, which Lamarre said "will be very, very different."

"The arena show will be more like a typical Michael Jackson concert," Branca said. "In Las Vegas, which will become the home of Michael Jackson, we want to bring a theatrical approach with a lot of new technologies. It has to become an experience, not just a normal, regular show. The people who are going to come will have huge expectations."

Among the media and technologies that Branca predicts will be featured in the show, which will open at one of MGM Mirage's existing properties, include "such things as as 3-D, holograms and motion simulation."

Television industry analyst Brad Adgate said Tuesday that the deal, while impressive, was not without its perils. "It's a very bold plan, certainly very aggressive. If you're going to do something like this for any artist, he's one of the more logical choices. It seems like this could work on a lot of different platforms, but if the first step is a misfire, the whole thing could go down in flames."

But Jackson's music, which remains a hot seller, will provide a measure of insurance. John McClain, Branca's co-executor of the state, "will supervise remixes and mash-ups of various recordings so that fans will experience Michael's music in new ways," Branca said. "In addition, it's very possible that [previously] unreleased recordings could find their way into this show. That will be a creative decision everybody will be making."

Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert-industry-tracking magazine Pollstar, said he is optimistic about the move, thanks in part to what he called Cirque du Soleil's "stellar reputation" in creating the Beatles and Presley shows. "Since you can no longer see Michael in person, this might be the best way to enjoy his music in a live experience."

randy.lewis@latimes.com

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