Michael Jackson spent his life breaking music industry records. Four years after his death, the pop star's estate has delivered another first: Jackson is now the only person, place or thing to have inspired two Cirque du Soleil shows.
The Montreal-based acrobatic-theater company presented a sneak peak of its new Jackson tribute show, "One," at the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
The show shares many features with "Immortal," another Cirque production that capitalizes on the enduring public fascination with the King of Pop.
In both, performers dance, somersault and glide above the crowd in dramatic riffs on Jackson's number one hits.
But unlike "Immortal," which is a touring show, "One" will have a permanent home in Vegas when it opens June 29. "Immortal" is scored by a live band, whereas "One" will feature original recordings.
Creative director Welby Altidor said he tried to channel Jackson's famous knack for pushing boundaries.
"If Michael was an acrobat, how would he fly? How would he do the things Cirque du Soleil does?" he asked.
The 20-minute preview Tuesday looked like Cirque's typical display of elaborately costumed, often airborne, attention deficit theater.
Each scene featured at least five separate points of action at any given time, with actors taking advantage of the full three-dimensionality of the space — flying over the crowd, climbing ropes to the ceiling, and dancing off to the wings in ramps.
The show is not biographical, and no one directly portrays Jackson. Instead, it presents emotional, if fairly literal, takes on the pop star's hits.
During the act set to "Stranger in Moscow," a huddled figure wanders in the snow. Performers don bejeweled prison stripes for "Smooth Criminal." And for "Bad," they do tightrope tricks amid a scene of urban decay.
The show does portray a general sense of Jackson-ness.
Paparazzi-like monsters with flashing headgear torment four main characters. Dancers appear in white fedoras and white jackets over shimmering bikinis. They moonwalked and leaned to precariously acute angles.
Pictures and stock footage of Jackson also drift on and off a giant LED screen that serves as the show's backdrop.
The Jackson estate is co-producer of both Cirque shows. In addition to sharing in revenue from the box office and merchandizing, the estate earns royalties on the music used in the productions.
While some fans might be leery of what appears to be another money grab, "One" is likely to fit right in on the Strip, which has also hosted Beatles and Elvis-themed Cirque shows.
As acrobats tumbled and bounced in Las Vegas, the spirit of the late performer was also hovering over an entirely different production a few hundred miles away. A wrongful death trial is currently playing out in a Los Angeles court between Michael Jackson's mother and concert giant AEG Live.
Altidor acknowledged that the trial has put the singer's name back in the headlines, but he hopes no one will be thinking of the tabloid side of Jackson's life when they come to the Mandalay Bay theater.
"We're really focusing on the positive; all the things he brought to the world," he said. "That's what we want to celebrate."
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier.