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Even with the incredible success of Dancing With the Stars, few — if any– dancer-choreographers have matched the accomplishments of Jamie King, a former background guy who is now very much in the forefront. On Wednesday, it was announced that King will write and direct Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour, a Cirque Du Soleil production incorporating the late star’s music and imagery and “unlocking the secrets of Michael’s inner world” according to a release, “his love of music and dance, fairy tale and magic, and the fragile beauty of nature.” More than 60 international performers will take part in the acrobatic spectacle, which will travel to 30 markets in Canada and the U.S., beginning October 2, 2011. The production budget is estimated to be around $57 million, three times the cost of the typical Cirque touring production. Tickets ranging in price from $50 to $250 go on sale this Saturday.
THR spoke to King, who first met and befriended Michael Jackson when he auditioned to be a dancer on the 1992 Dangerous tour (not surprisingly, he got the gig), about his latest project and the many fantastical tours he’s directed over the years, including Madonna‘s Sticky & Sweet and Confessions tours, treks by Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne and Rihanna.
The Hollywood Reporter: When you were hired as a dancer — and Michael Jackson’s body double — on the Dangerous tour, was that one of your first jobs?
Jamie King: It was one of my first jobs and the biggest job that I had. It was a gift.
THR: You spent two years on the road with Michael, did that help you land this project? Did you guys keep in touch?
King: No, he went his way and I went mine. I was asked by the estate, who was having conversations with Cirque about directors, trying to find a good match and my name was thrown around. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. I’m a huge fan. In my work directing big rock and pop tours, I have been so influenced by the Cirque shows and the magic they create.
THR: How do you transition from backup dancer to director?
King: It was a natural progression. Even when I was on stage with Michael in 1992, I remember looking around at the set behind me and around me and I was blown away. I would be next to him on stage feeling that energy and watching him give 150% of himself to his fans and his audience, and I was definitely interested in what was going on around us and how that was created. Also enhancing visual imagery to accent what he was doing, I’ve always been interested in creating it along with the spectacle of the artist.
THR: Did the estate voice any concerns or requests about how they wished his legacy be presented?
King: It’s a collaboration between the estate, the family, myself and Cirque, and in having all these great creative energies, I never had one door closed in my face. In fact, they’ve been very open in granting me access to everything in Michael’s world. I’ve met with his brother Jackie, his old management, I’ve done a lot of research on my own in terms of what made the man, who is the man, what does he stand for, what is he about? And of course, I re-listened to all the albums again and that was really the launching pad. From there, I created the show that I thought fans would want to see. This journey is more about discovering and uncovering the secrets of Michael Jackson. His love of fairytale, magic movies, music, dance, animals, his ideas and beliefs on the state of the world and how he sometimes thought we as human beings had the ability to contaminate and ruin things that are pure and beautiful. Also his big belief in uniting the world and bringing people together, and that life was really a big dance floor and performance space where we should all celebrate one another and our diversity.
THR: Will fans get all the hits?
King: I can’t imagine doing a Michael Jackson show without providing the hits — those iconic moments that really defined Michael. He touched the world and we all can remember a moment in time where we were influenced by a song or a moonwalk or a sequined glove, so it’s important that the hits are there not just musically, but with imagery like Thriller and “Smooth Criminal.”
THR: What’s the timeline like for you?
King: I’ve been in preproduction for about five months and the next phase is about casting and getting my 60-plus cast together. Then next year begins the rehearsal process and the show opens October 2, 2011 so I will stay through the opening.
THR: How does the collaborative process work with so many influencers — you, the family, Cirque, etc.?
King: We are a collective effort and a working team and want to make sure we’re all going for the same vision. There’s nothing that we do without everyone’s blessing. I wouldn’t want to speak for anyone, but from the beginning, our collective thought process has been to tell the world, show them and remind them of the Michael we all knew and loved. He’s a man who affected all of us globally. Whether you’re a good dancer or bad, we’ve all tried the moonwalk or the “Beat It” dance or Thriller. His life has really touched us all, and that’s the thing we want to carry on with this show: that Michael lives in all of us, and we want to celebrate that.
THR: What did you think of This is It?
King: I thought it was a very inspirational look at michael. It’s sad that with all the press and the world that we live in, you can sometimes get lost, so it was nice to just get back to the music and the artistry and really show the world what the man was about. Michael was about performance, the artistry of the stage and the realness of the sound.
Billion-dollar box office: that’s how much revenue Jamie King-directed tours have grossed in the last five years alone. Here, the biggest of his productions — in profits.
Madonna “Sticky and Sweet” tour (2008): $408 million
Madonna “Confessions” tour (2006): $195 million
Celine Dion “Taking Chances” tour (2008-2009): $278 million
Britney Spears “Circus” tour (2009): $132 million
Madonna “Reinvention” tour (2004): $125 million
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