When I was a youngster and bought a new music album, it always came as a letdown if on first listen three or four tracks provided a thrill but the other music seemed like filler.
So it is with Cirque du Soleil'slatest touring show, "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour." The spectacle — and it is truly a spectacle — features dance, acrobatics and other stunts set to remixed Jackson tunes. There are eye-catching moments that Cirque is famed for, but they pop up too sporadically in an often-misdirected show.
A lack of warmth plagues the show from the outset. Most Cirque shows have a stable of quirky but somehow human characters, be they clowns or the curious bird woman from "La Nouba," Cirque's show at Downtown Disney. "The Immortal World Tour" doesn't really have such a character.
A performer turns up a few times as Bubbles, Jackson's chimp, but the only leading character is a mime (Salah Benlemqawansa), who despite some groovy dance moves, doesn't inspire much affection. Granted, we in Central Florida are spoiled by the intimate venue for "La Nouba," but the lack of connectedness is emphasized even more in the cavernous Amway Center.
Giant video screens help fill the void, and they are real energy-boosters with clever animation, classic footage and moving scenery. But Jamie King, credited as writer and director, often puts live dancers or tumblers in front of the screens in ways that detract instead of enhance. There's no clear focus, just a bombardment of light, sound and movement.
The moments that do break through are the most physically challenging. Aerial strap artists Luba Kazantseva and Igor Zaripov are graceful and thrilling in a midair ballet to "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." Anna Melnikova brings some welcome attitude to the stage, and her slinky pole dance to "Dangerous" had me holding my breath.
A scene with contortionist Baaska Enkhbaatar combines all the best of Cirque du Soleil: A mind-boggling performance in a suitably atmospheric context with engaging music behind it.
Other highlights include a stylish "Smooth Criminal," in which a fedora-wearing dance corp shows off some of Jackson's favorite moves; a visually stimulating "Human Nature," in which aerialists disappear against a night sky, as LED-laden costumes change colors and patterns; and "Thriller," enhanced by shrewd, stark lighting in white, blue and red.
And, of course, there is a thrill of recognition mixed with nostalgia the first time the moonwalk is performed (less than five minutes in), or a sequined glove is revealed, or a familiar video clip appears.
Really, it's Michael Jackson's voice, and adulation of the late singer that's at center stage. It's just disconcerting that amid the pulsing lights, pounding music and umpteenth dance number that the real star is a memory.
'Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour'
• What: Touring show by Cirque du Soleil
• Length: 2:10
• Remaining show: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 29
• Where: Amway Center, 400 W. Church St., Orlando
• Cost: $63.95-$193.25
• Call: 1-800-745-3000
• Other Florida stops: Miami, March 2-4; Jacksonville, March 7 and 8; more info at CirqueduSoleil.com/michaeljackson