Thursday, February 9, 2012

Michael Jackson's Immortal

This is the letter I just sent to Cirque du Soleil.

Dear Sir or Madam

I’m writing to tell you about my recent experience at Immortal, the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil, which I saw last weekend at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.  Let me say first that this is eighth Cirque du Soleil-related performance that I’ve seen.  I’ve seen, and enjoyed, O (three times), Ka (twice), Love, and…a touring one that had a loose South American theme (Samba?  This was many years ago).   I have recommended—proselytized, you might even say—your shows to family and friends on numerous occasions.  I essentially compelled my parents to see O against their will (they’re not big ‘show’ people).  I am, in other words, a fan.

Which made watching Immortal all the more painful.  I have no interest in insulting you or your staff.  Putting together a full-length musical performance can’t be easy, and certainly you’ve done it well in the past.  Immortal, however, was offensively bad.  It was beyond disaster.  The choreography was lame and uninspired.  The circus aspects of the show, such as there were, felt random and disconnected; my wife suggested that the show’s director had pulled out-of-work performers from other Cirque du Soleil shows and told them to do whatever tricks came easiest.  I couldn’t even close my eyes and listen to the music; the audio quality made it impossible.  It sounded as if someone had hooked up a dozen loudspeakers to a cheap stereo, shut the whole thing inside a high school gym, jacked up the volume and left it alone.  And the routines!  The dancing chimp!  The life-sized white glove, which evoked nothing so strongly as the Hamburger Helper spokesman.  The creepy insistence on foregrounding the Neverland ranch.  The shot of Macaulay Culkin in the video montage.  You couldn’t even say that the taste level of the questionable; it was only bad—irrevocably bad.

Beyond all the many passing failures, the show suffered from a failure of conception.  Michael Jackson was not a prophet.  He was not a social visionary.  His ideas, such as they were, were banal and unexceptional (peace is better than war, love is better than hate, the environment is important, eetc.)  And yet for reasons I can’t begin to understand, Immortal focused not on the early Michael Jackson, the singer and dancer whose work inspired us all with feelings of freedom and joy, but on the later freaked-out Jackson, the one who inspired only pity—or something worse.  Why anyone attempting to produce a show that ostensibly paid tribute to Michael Jackson would decide to take away minutes from  “Beat It”, “Billie Jean” or “Smooth Criminal” and give them to eight-minute renditions of “They Don’t Give A Damn About Us” or to a seemingly endless array of synth-drenched laments for the sorrow of the Earth’s future is more than I can understand.   At the very minimum, it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about the legacy and significance of Jackson’s work.

Having said I didn’t intend to be insulting, I’ve just reeled off a list of what I guess might seem like insults.  Unfortunately, there’s no other way I can describe what it was like to experience Immortal.  And frankly, however insulted you may feel reading this, is nothing compared to how my wife and I felt by the time we left the show.  We felt as if we’d been victimized, as if we’d been conned.  Because Immortal was an insult; it was an insult to Jackson’s fans; it was an insult to Jackson’s legacy; and it was an insult to the thousands of audience members who paid out hefty sums to watch this debacle.

Included in this letter are my tickets, as well as the receipt showing the amount of purchase.  I mail these in order to help your staff process my refund.  Yes, refund.  I have never before asked for a refunded ticket price for a live show.  (I’ve never even walked out of a bad movie!)  But in the case of Immortal, I have no choice.  When I pay to see entertainment, I hope for brilliance—but I expect only competence.
Immortal did not come close to meeting that expectation.   It was a tacky, cynical, slapdash affair in no way worthy of Michael Jackson’s name—or your own.  


Dezmond said...

Well said, sir. I also liked that you told them that you did not want to insult them, and then you shred their show for several paragraphs. You are right about his true importance/legacy, but his legacy is also the creepy things. And that is what many remember most vividly, unfortunately. It does sound like one of those "so bad it is good" things. No? I mean, the Hamburger Helper glove? I'd enjoy seeing that.

ANCIANT said...

First off, I know there are some typos in there, but I wrote it quickly--not wanting to relive the experience any more than I had to. far as 'so bad it's good,' I can see how that might apply, but you'd have to go with some friends and sit somewhere where you could all talk to each other (which would be tricky, given the volume of the show). To me, 150$ is too much to pay for a ticket that has only 'so bad it's good' value. For that price, I want 'so good it's good.' Or at least 'so mediocre, it's fine.'

Johannes said...

Sadly, I'd pay to see a giant dancing hamburger helper glove.

JMW said...

I wish I'd had a chance, at some point in my life, to write an aggrieved letter that included this: "The dancing chimp!"

I applaud you.

And I share everyone's fascination with the giant glove.

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Cartooniste said...

Did you see the adult/erotica themed Cirque show in Las Vegas that was there last year? We were warned by our concierge that it's so erotic that "some people can't handle it." Which made me imagine what it looks like when someone "can't handle" a Cirque du Soleil show. Are they carried on a litter by scantily clad acrobats and fanned and fed peeled grapes until they're freed from the erotic paroxysm that suddenly seized them in row GG?

ANCIANT said...

No, we haven't seen that show. A friend of the wife's saw it and said it was nothing to get excited about--on any level.