BEVERLY HILLS, California — Since his shocking death, Michael Jackson's estate has seen an unprecedented level of earning, putting the King of Pop on a trajectory that rivals music's all-time greatest entertainers. Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil has spent the last few years staging elaborate tribute shows to the likes of Elvis and the Beatles. If any doubt remained that MJ belongs on that legendary level, the two entities are now joining forces for a series of groundbreaking shows that will entertain, embrace and establish the iconic superstar.
"We came to an agreement with Michael Jackson's estate to create and produce two shows," Cirque du Soleil President and Chief Executive Officer Daniel Lamarre revealed to MTV News. "One show is going to be an arena show at the end of 2011 and will tour for one year in North America and then tour around the world for many years to come. At the end of 2012, we'll also open a permanent show in Las Vegas."
The overall effort is referred to only as the "Michael Jackson projects" for the time being, and as anyone who has seen such Cirque shows as "Ka," "Love" or "Viva Elvis" will tell you, the company isn't lacking when it comes to production spectacle. The estate of Michael Jackson and Cirque du Soleil will each own 50 percent of the projects, sharing equally in the cost of creating, developing, building and producing the shows; the Michael Jackson estate will also receive royalty payments for the King of Pop's music.
"The entire catalog is open to us ... we don't know [which songs we'll use] yet, but obviously all of the people will be looking for the big hits of Michael Jackson; we don't want to avoid that," Lamarre said of plans to incorporate not only classics like "Thriller," but also never-before-released tunes. "We want to make sure that we will meet musical expectations from the fans. At the same time, [Michael Jackson estate executors] John McClain and John Branca are also working on a new release that they want to make with Sony Music — and that could also be a part of our new shows.
"There will be two different approaches," he explained of the distinction between the MJ/Cirque shows. "For the arena show, there will be a simulation of a concert of Michael Jackson, and we will use some technology to make sure that people feel and see the presence of Michael Jackson.
"The new technology that we want to bring to [the permanent] Vegas [show] will be more theatrical," he said, adding that although the show doesn't have a home yet, it will be in one of the MGM Mirage (Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Monte Carlo) hotels, which will likely be retrofitted with Michael Jackson-themed elements within its hotel and casino. "They will see Vegas become the home of Michael Jackson and people will come from all over the world to experience the uniqueness of the technology that we want to bring there."
Some might wonder how anyone could hope to revive such a unique performer onstage — Lamarre said the answer is to simply bring back the man himself.
"I think we can use some 3-D technologies and hologram technologies to allow people to see Michael Jackson onstage," he said of Cirque's intriguing idea to put Michael alongside the living, breathing Cirque performers. "If you are an MJ fan, you want to see him, and we have to find the best, most innovative way to bring Michael onstage."
As for the plot or theme of either show, Lamarre said, "We're not there in terms of the creative process, but normally we don't like to be literal," shooting down any notion that the show would play like a biopic or narrative about MJ's life and death. "I would like to think it would be more of a theatrical tribute to Michael. We don't necessarily think of chronology or story lines or anything. It will be more of an extravaganza-type of show, like Michael used to do."
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