On Wednesday 29 August 2018 the Estate of Michael Jackson and the Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil resident show held its annual celebration of the pop icon’s birthday in Las Vegas.  This year would have been Michael’s 60th birthday, and the event was duly billed as the Michael Jackson Diamond Celebration which came complete with special merchandise bearing a sparkling crown logo.  But the King of Pop’s crown was now composed of diamonds.

Since diamonds were beloved by Michael’s friend Elizabeth Taylor, it seemed only appropriate that his estate partner with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) to incorporate a welcome humanitarian ingredient to proceedings.

Michael Jackson fans from all over the world (including myself from Australia, along with friends from Canada and Hong Kong) gathered on the afternoon of the 29th in the vicinity of the MJ One Theatre at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino for a “meet and greet” opportunity with Estate personnel and special guests, which included Michael’s costume designer Michael Bush (author of “The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson”) and musician Greg Phillinganes who worked with MJ over three decades and was the musical director for Cirque’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour (which I saw 14 times in 4 different countries… I think!  I really loved that show.)

There were 3 birthday cakes, two of which were divided up for all the fans in the MJ One theatre lobby.  I missed out on this, but being gluten intolerant, wouldn’t have been able to eat it anyway; but I’m told they were delicious.  Most of the fans in attendance had tickets to attend the 7 pm or 9.30 pm MJ One shows.  On presentation of our tickets at the door we were issued with invitations to the after party to be held outdoors at the Daylight Beach Club commencing at the conclusion of the early show.

40628630_10212711667321720_3659140466349178880_oBefore all of that though was the “intimate” Q&A with the Michael Jackson Estate for which invitations had been issued to fans who had responded to the call for questions earlier in the month.  This was held in the bar area of the RX Boiler Room restaurant in the Shoppes at Mandalay Place – the arcade that connects the Mandalay resort to its neighbor, the Luxor, where I was staying.  The submitted questions (or, a compilation thereof) were read out by MJ Online team member Jeffrey Jampol for Estate co-executor John Branca to answer.  There were the inevitable requests for clarification or further information on some matters which Mr. Branca and Karen Langford accommodated as best they could.  The questions all pertained to further plans for releasing new music, remastering videos, or opening a museum, and many other matters of interest or concern to fans.

Some of the fan forums subsequently carried reports on the Q&A which, in simplifying the responses to our queries, may have raised some false hopes on the Estate’s imminent plans.  There were fans at the Q&A from many countries, and with all that we were taking in, our enthusiasm left us excited at the prospect of something that may be possible in the future, but isn’t now (like the re-mastering of Michael’s videos for highest definition). The important thing is that the Estate are looking at projects for the next 10 years, which means, for example that, as promised last year, we get Thriller 3D this year, (but not Ghosts – my all-time favourite and the subject of my submitted question for the Q&A). But it’s coming, along with much else in the years ahead.  I just have to be patient.

The subject of new (unreleased) music was naturally a priority, and the answer given us on the night echoed a quote in the LA Times from Sony Music Chief Executive Rob Stringer, who said: “We are looking at one-off songs, and in this streaming world that works because it’s a track-based world. There are a few gems out there that we may unearth individually over the next months and years, but we’re also very, very careful to make sure the fan base doesn’t feel like they’ve been asked yet again to buy material they have.” [1]

The Estate is emphatic it wants to avoid more controversy – the obvious (unnamed) culprits being the infamous “Cascio tracks” released on the posthumous “Michael” album.  These tracks have sadly deflected attention from other genuinely magnificent songs (ones actually sung by Michael) featured on the album.  Think “Hold My Hand”, “Hollywood Tonight”, “Behind the Mask” and “(I Can’t Take It) Another Day” for example.  To better showcase these and the other authentic tracks, I’d love to see the album re-packaged and re-issued without the offending songs.

A documentary on the HIStory world tour was also raised at the Q&A, however, on that tour, sometimes Michael sang live, and sometimes he didn’t.  The Estate does not want to produce something that gives critics any reason to doubt Michael’s showmanship.  But, with HIStory being a favourite of John Branca, I hope that such a film is not entirely out of the question in the future.  I remember John Landis at the MJ Scream event in Hollywood last October expressing enthusiasm for doing a documentary on the HIStory tour.  I thought it was a great idea!

The question was asked about a future Michael Jackson biopic, to which John Branca responded that there could be a number of them based on various aspects of Michael’s life, but for now the Michael Jackson Broadway musical is a priority for the Estate, with the intention being to stage a show that will equal the success and acclaim of The Jersey Boys.  The Estate is pulling out all the stops to make this happen.  A recent report on Playbill provides a progress report on the production which is expected to open in 2020.  As explained by the show’s director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, the show is not a bio-musical of Michael’s life, but is anchored in one particular moment in time and uses that as a focal point for past storytelling and perhaps some forecast of what is to come. [2]

After the Q&A we headed off to dinner at the House of Blues, where we had an opportunity to digest the information we’d been given.  By the time we returned to the area adjacent to the MJ One boutique, the pre-show red carpet parade of celebrities was about to take place in front of a mass of media cameras.  It was almost as manic as the red carpet event I’d experienced at the official opening of MJ One back in 2013.

First into view were members of the show’s cast, who were eventually followed by three of Michael’s siblings who stopped to talk to the media down the opposite end of the carpet from my vantage point.  The priority for my friends and I was to see Michael’s two eldest children, Prince and Paris, who were announced as attending the event.  They eventually did walk the red carpet, but sadly not while we were watching.  The crush of the crowd had been intense as we all jostled for a view of the VIP arrivals; so with show time drawing near, my Canadian friends Marge and Patrick and I retreated to the MJ One theatre lobby and eventually to our seats inside.

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Every year that I attend the MJ One show I notice differences – although last year (2017) during my October visit the show was closed in the wake of the tragic mass shooting in the vicinity of the hotel.  In December 2016, however, I thought the slightly shortened version of the show I saw had ramped up the pace – and the excitement – considerably from what I had previously experienced, and I thought it was better than ever: truly superb. [3]

This year I was a little less ecstatic because some of the early numbers seemed too much of a mash-up for any particular song/performance to create maximum impact (apart from leaving one breathless!).  When things settled down for the likes of Stranger in Moscow, Dirty Diana and Earth Song, it was just like “old times” watching the show.  Earth Song is my favourite segment, given that I spend most of the time watching the footage of Michael on the big screen – my favourite MJ song from what is probably my favourite MJ era.  The mature man and his message bring me to tears.

The minor things with the show that have annoyed me in the past still do – the “Moon Goddess” character on her floating crescent moon who has always seemed like an escapee from a Mardi Gras parade, and the morphing of Michael’s “ghost” at the end of Man in the Mirror into a little boy, tipping his cowboy hat to the crowd.  I’d rather they leave him the grown up, mature genius that he became.  Always have, always will, I guess.  Turning Michael back into a little boy makes him “safe” and “malleable” – something he certainly wasn’t as an adult in charge of his own creative output.  No artistic genius should be rendered “safe” in my opinion, certainly not posthumously, when he has no input into the characterization.  I am reminded of the closing lines of the updated UK paperback edition of Jermaine Jackson’s book “You Are Not Alone: Michael, through a Brother’s Eyes” in which he depicted his deceased 50-years-old sibling as a little boy, sitting on a cloud in heaven, tapping his foot to the beat.  Again, the adult genius is rendered “safe” and “malleable”.

The show’s finale, as always, was a blast, with us clapping and stamping along with the cast as they came through the aisles.  Finally, when the lights came up and people began to disperse, I spotted MJ One (and Immortal) director Jamie King walking out past our seats, and was able to speak to him and take photos.  In addition to his work on the Estate/Cirque projects, Jamie is well-known to MJ fans for having toured as a dancer with Michael on the Dangerous World Tour after making his debut at Michael’s landmark Super Bowl half time performance in 1993.  He has, of course, accrued a long and impressive list of credentials as a choreographer and director since then.

Now it was time to head off to the after-party which was in its very early stages when we reached the Daylight Club.  The music was already pumping, and the VIPs were already arriving.  There were cabanas cordoned off on one side of the pool for their use, but not all the special guests confined themselves to the area.  I encountered This Is It director and Michael’s long-time friend and tour director Kenny Ortega standing at one of the bars and chatted with him.  Later I brushed right past Greg Phillinganes as he was making his way through the crowd – but didn’t notice until one of my friends pointed him out to me.

Sadly we missed seeing the arrival of Prince and Paris Jackson.  After the hectic afternoon and evening we’d had, we “mature-age” fans were ready to head back to our respective hotel rooms.  The Hong Kong gang stayed on and captured footage of Elizabeth Taylor’s grandson Quinn Tivey presenting Prince and Paris with a posthumous award for their father from the ETAF in recognition of his many charitable contributions in both time and money, as well as the way he set up his Estate (which stipulates a percentage goes to various charities).

While I normally avoid visiting the American southwest during summer because of the usually high temperatures, this was one of the few occasions when I suffered the heat for the sake of attending an extra special event.  I’m pleased to say that the stars (in the firmament and on the planet) aligned to make it a night I’ll happily remember.

Story and Photos by Kerry Hennigan
September 2018

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Sources:

[1]  http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-ms-michael-jackson-estate-20180829-story.html#

[2]  http://www.playbill.com/article/what-to-expect-from-the-broadway-bound-michael-jackson-musical

[3]  Kerry Hennigan “Las Vegas and the Valley of Fire Revisited” 2016 https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2018/02/22/las-vegas-and-the-valley-of-fire-revisited-10-to-12-december-2016/

Also worth reading:

Robin Leach’s review of the preview performance of Michael Jackson One in 2013.  https://lasvegassun.com/vegasdeluxe/2013/may/24/michael-jackson-one-cirque-du-soleil-best-and-incl/#ixzz2ZEbaQPaS

Milk & Honey article on Michael Jackson ONE (2015).  http://www.itsmilkandhoney.com/cirque-du-soleil-michael-jackson-one/