It was around the time the human-sized dancing glove showed up that Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson show got kind of weird. Don't get me wrong, there was a lot of strange stuff happening before then, not the least of which being the appearance of an actor dressed as Bubbles, Jackson's famous pet monkey, who later ascended a platform to DJ above the crowd. But that's almost predictable. Of course there would be a guy in a monkey suit wearing overalls and a striped shirt running around, pounding his hands on the stage like a French-Canadian circus version of Andy Serkis. A big, sparkling anthropomorphic glove, though? That looks like the Hamburger Helper mascot gone fabulous? Well, that's a special stroke of brilliant weirdness. And that's not even mentioning the dancers who leaped out of a pair of giant shoes seconds later.
Suffice to say, Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour, which rolled through the Rose Garden last Friday and Saturday, isn't a particularly sentimental show, and that's among its more positive traits. Other than a merry-go-round intensive performance set to the ballad “Gone Too Soon,” there weren't any moments meant to remind the audience that Jackson was, in fact, as mortal as the rest of us. And frankly, we've had enough of those over the last two years. On the other hand, the show didn't offer many reminders that Jackson was once a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human at all. It's a show celebrating the Michael Jackson iconography and his place in the pop-culture cosmos, not necessarily his life. You can debate the merits of something like that—does it reduce Jackson, one of the greatest entertainers the planet has ever known, to nothing but a brand name?—but really, those thoughts aren't going through your head during the actual show. More likely, you'll be wondering how the show, with all its pomp, all its sensory overload, all its dancing gloves and DJing ape-men and computer-animated star babies, could end up being sort of...boring.
And that, really, is where the Immortal Tour becomes an affront to Jackson's legacy: He would never want his name attached to something that wasn't top-drawer entertainment. He certainly wouldn't be offended by the spectacle of it all: If you've seen This Is It, the show looks like a slightly scaled-down version of what he had planned for the run of concerts he was putting together when he died—minus, y'know, MJ himself. As it turns out, he's the most crucial part. Even with his disembodied voice singing over a live band's interpretation of his hits, and the occasional flash of his face on the jumbo screens and live re-enactments of his videos, you rarely get the sense that his spirit is part of the show. And without that feeling, it becomes nothing but a bunch of acrobats in wacky costumes diving off platforms and fleets of dancers failing to captivate in the way Jackson did while performing all by himself, tied around an incomprehensible narrative (something about a mime and a group of "fanatics" searching for Neverland, or something).
Not that there weren't some impressive moments: the pole dance during “Dangerous” made me want to fold a few singles into paper airplanes and launch them at the stage; the acrobatic ballet set to “I Just Can't Stop Loving You” was fairly beautiful, mostly because it was one of the show's few moments of isolation and relative quietude; the gold-plated contortionist writhing around on a giant storybook was another bout of strangeness, but it's always amusing to watch someone tie themselves in knots; and the one-legged dancer, who got to take a number of crutch-assisted solos throughout the night, just made me feel incredible unambitious. But all of those instances felt like something you could see at any Cirque du Soleil performance. That's why the more bizarre, MJ-specific images, like the giant glove and humanoid Bubbles, stood out: They were interpolations of idiosyncrasies so odd they could only belong to a world-class eccentric like Michael Jackson. Otherwise, all the chaos just sort of blended together into an incomprehensible swirl of noise and light and tumbling and mimes and LED costumes and robot dancers—which has it's charms, to be sure, but for the most part just made my eyes glaze over.