Cirque du Soleil crafts a thriller of a show

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“Michael Jackson: The Immortal Tour” is a Cirque du Soleil extravaganza coming to San Jose and Oakland next week.
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One never can accuse a Cirque du Soleil show of being short of thrills — but even the beasts running the titular creative empire had to wonder how Cirque could outdo itself upon considering the subject of its new endeavor: Michael Jackson.

The result, “Michael Jackson: The Immortal Tour,” hits Bay Area arenas next week. The mind-bending, hypnotic and heart-pumping show is a kaleidoscope of the King of Pop, whose untimely death in 2009 shot his celebrity higher into orbit — if that was possible.

French-born Salah Benlemqawanssa, who morphs into the main performing role in the show, sums up the “Immortal” experience quite simply: “Emotional.”

“But my position is not easy,” he adds. “When I put my foot on the stage, I realize I am the guy driving the direction of the world of Michael Jackson. It’s fun, it’s nostalgic. And when I am on the stage, I realize I have to show people what Michael’s message is.”

As in many Cirque shows, this presentation is less of an example of  “Jackson-mania” than it is a thought-out presentation infused by the pop icon’s depth, prolific creativity and devotion to humanity.

Of course, there’s a lot of dance, with many performers, as well as Jackson’s pulse-pounding music and plenty of fantasy.

Written and directed by Jamie King, the show takes place in a fantastical realm, the home of Jackson’s “Giving Tree,” something from which he draws inspiration.

Musical designer Kevin Antunes was given special access to Jackson’s master recordings, and Jackson’s longtime close colleague, musical director Greg Phillinganes, is said to have worked wonders with the 32 featured songs.

Scenes merge from wild, explosive showcases such as “Dancing Machine” to more intimate settings like “Ben,” which focuses on Jackson’s devotion to animals. “Smooth Criminal” highlights the performer’s distinctly original choreography.

Benlemqawanssa is quick to point out Jackson’s appeal when explaining why the touring show is so popular.

“The music of Michael never dies,” he says. “When I am doing the show, I am never bored of Michael’s music. It’s so special. And his message is so important.”

IF YOU GO

Michael Jackson: The Immortal Tour

Presented by Cirque du Soleil

When: 8 p.m. Jan. 13-14; 4 p.m. Jan. 15
Where: HP Pavilion, 525 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose
Tickets: $50 to $250
Contact: (800) 745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com
Note: The show also runs at 8 p.m. Jan. 17-18 at Oracle Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland.

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