Abstract: The partnership between the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil company and the Michael Jackson Estate, first announced in 2010, has proved to be a fruitful one for both parties. First Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour arena show, then the Las Vegas residency Michael Jackson ONE, have been major successes. After a forced hiatus due to the pandemic, Michael Jackson ONE is back and drawing audiences again. Having seen both of the Cirque/Jackson collaborations numerous times, MJ Studies Today columnist Kerry Hennigan takes a look at the history of the shows, and what they have meant for both parties.
Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts’” and MJ blogger. Student of Ancient History, Archaeology and Anthropology.
Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today LXXI: ‘Keep on with the force’: Michael Jackson’s legacy on tour and in residence via Cirque du Soleil.” (14-11-2021). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 8, No. 2 (2021). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-lxxi/
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“Keep on with the force”: Michael Jackson’s legacy on tour and in residence via Cirque du Soleil. By Kerry Hennigan
In mid-August of 2021, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and Cirque du Soleil announced on social media: “We wanna rock with you… at Michael Jackson ONE!… #IntermissionIsOver.” After a seventeen-month pandemic-enforced hiatus which had shut down most Vegas shows, Cirque’s MJ One re-opened to a full house and received an ecstatic standing ovation for the cast and creative team who, like the audience, all wore masks. 
MJ One first opened in July 2013, with a gala premiere that saw Prince Jackson escort his grandmother Katherine on the red carpet attended by other members of the Jackson family. Later that year Billboard magazine (16 November issue) published a cover story with the bold title “Life After Death. The inside story of why Michael Jackson’s touring business is now bigger than ever.” Inside, writer Mitchell Peters looked at “The Touring Afterlife of Michael Jackson” which detailed the origins of the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil’s relationship with Michael Jackson and attempted to explain how their first collaboration in partnership with Jackson’s Estate, Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour, resulted in what was then the ninth highest-grossing tour of all time.
A touring arena show, Immortal had first played in Cirque’s home city of Montreal in October 2011. It then toured North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East before returning to North America early in 2014. In his article for Forbes in December 2011, Zack O’Malley Greenburg explained “ Why Michael Jackson Is The Top Touring Act In America, Again.” He wrote that, at the time, Immortal was the highest-grossing live show in the US for the second week in a row, bringing in just under $2 million per night on its tour dates in Las Vegas. “That’s over half a million dollars more than the next-highest earner, Taylor Swift, according to concert data provider Pollstar.” 
During a time when Cirque suffered accusations of “mediocrity” for new projects that failed to excite even traditional Cirque crowds, one critic noted that: “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour is a genuine juggernaut and potential prototype for a slower, wiser expansion.”  The success of that show instilled confidence that there would be an audience for an MJ residency show in Las Vegas. There were already numerous impersonators filling humbler venues on and off the famous Strip. The popularity of the Cirque brand and the majority of its shows that were based in the city, coupled with the popularity of Michael Jackson, himself an avid Cirque fan, made the success of Michael Jackson ONE almost a given – unless Cirque did one of its rare missteps (e.g. Viva Elvis).  It didn’t, and now MJ One is back, playing to capacity or near-capacity houses, two shows a night, five nights a week.
The success of both of Cirque’s Michael Jackson shows owes much to the team appointed by the Jackson Estate to produce and direct the shows. Jamie King, one-time Jackson tour dancer and subsequently successful choreographer for the likes of Madonna, Britany Spears, Pink and Celine Dion, was appointed the job of creating both Immortal and MJ One. Knowing the material, knowing Michael and being a consummate professional himself, Jamie proved to be the perfect choice to blend the magic of Cirque and Michael Jackson in a way that pleased established fans of the King of Pop and gained plenty of new ones. He could also mix it with other celebrities while helping to promote the shows, including getting actor Russell Crowe and talk show host Jimmy Fallon to do Jackson’s crotch grab dance move on camera!  “Michael was one of my greatest teachers and he taught me how to produce and design and create the greatest live shows,” Jamie told LA Weekly in 2012. “Not only learning that from him but also being around him and watching him be a perfectionist.” 
When the Jackson/Cirque partnership was first announced in Montreal on November 3, 2010, the Immortal World Tour was promised to be a “once-in-a-lifetime electrifying production [that] will combine Michael Jackson music and choreography with Cirque du Soleil creativity to give fans worldwide a unique view into the spirit, passion and heart of the artistic genius who forever transformed global pop culture.”  Eleven years later, we find the partnership still firmly in place, and performances of MJ One once again pleasing audiences in Las Vegas. As Michael himself sang, “Keep on with the force / Don’t stop till you get enough.” Indeed, the “once-in-a-lifetime” promise has been superseded by the continued success of the Michael Jackson/Cirque du Soleil collaboration. 
 News 3 Las Vegas. “Cirque’s ‘Michael Jackson ONE’ returns to stage at Mandalay Bay.” 20 Aug 2021. https://news3lv.com/news/local/cirque-du-soleil-michael-jackson-one-mandalay-bay-las-vegas-return
 Greenburg, Zack O’Malley. “Why Michael Jackson Is The Top Touring Act In America, Again.” Forbes. 12 Dec 2011. https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2011/12/12/why-michael-jackson-is-the-top-touring-act-in-america-again/
 The Globe and Mail. “Massive layoffs and mediocrity. Has Cirque du Soleil lost its way.” 16 Jan 2013. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance/massive-layoffs-and-mediocrity-has-cirque-du-soleil-lost-its-way/article7445837/
 Theatre Mania. “Cirque du Soleil asked to replace Viva Elvis at Las Vegas Aria.” 29 Nov 2011. https://www.theatermania.com/las-vegas/news/cirque-du-soleil-asked-to-replace-viva-elvis-at-la_45670.html
 YouTube. https://youtu.be/HafjZC3Ub4w
 LA Weekly. “Jamie King: Michael Jackson’s former dancer on his MJ Cirque du Soleil show.” 27 Jan 2012. https://www.laweekly.com/jamie-king-michael-jacksons-former-dancer-on-his-mj-cirque-du-soleil-show/
 PR Newswire. “Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour Cirque du Soleil.” 30 Nov 2010. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/michael-jackson-the-immortal-world-tour-cirque-du-soleil-106609713.html
 Jackson, Michael. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough. ℗ 1979 MJJ Productions Inc.
Freeman, Aleza. AARP. “What It’s Like to Visit Vegas in the Coronavirus Era.” 8 Sep 2021. https://www.aarp.org/travel/travel-tips/safety/info-2020/visiting-las-vegas-during-coronavirus-pandemic.html
A bona fide Cirque du Soleil as well as Michael Jackson fan, the author has written about some of her many firsthand experiences of both Cirque MJ shows on her personal blog. Some of the relevant articles are listed below:
Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil, Las Vegas, 3-4 and 7 December 2011. https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2021/11/12/michael-jackson-the-immortal-world-tour-by-cirque-du-soleil-las-vegas-3-4-and-7-december-2011/
Michaeling around the World Part 2 – Seeing Immortal at the O2 where Michael was meant to play, October 2012. https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2021/02/04/michaeling-around-the-world-october-2012-part-2-seeing-immortal-at-the-o2-where-michael-was-meant-to-play/
Review: MJ ONE – Michael is THE ONE. Las Vegas, June 2013. https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2020/11/21/review-mj-one-michael-is-the-one-june-2013/
Touched by the Chimp (or experiencing Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour in Hong Kong) – August 2013. https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/touched-by-the-chimp-or-experiencing-michael-jackson-the-immortal-world-tour-in-hong-kong-august-2013/
Las Vegas and the Valley of Fire Revisited – 10 to 12 December 2016. https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2018/02/22/las-vegas-and-the-valley-of-fire-revisited-10-to-12-december-2016/
Let us eat (birthday) cake – the Michael Jackson Diamond Celebration, Las Vegas 2018. https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/let-us-eat-birthday-cake-the-michael-jackson-diamond-celebration-las-vegas-2018/
Illustration: “the show goes on” photo montage compiled by Kerry Hennigan using official Cirque du Soleil artwork and original photo (centre image) by the author. No infringement of copyright is intended in this not for profit, educational exercise.