Michael Jackson ONE: The ONE Show You Can’t Miss

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Michael Jackson’s Thriller album was released in 1982, when I was sixteen years old. I suppose that’s why it made such an impact on me. I was of that age when music is how teenagers express themselves. I was a nerdy teenager though. As much as I loved the music and the music videos it generated, I also got a big kick out of the Vincent Price voiceover for the song Thriller. (I liked old movies. I’d seen House of Wax.)

Sometime in the ensuing years after the initial thrill (pardon the pun) of the album wore off, to be replaced by other albums, other interests, I distanced myself from Michael Jackson’s music. There was so much negative gossip about him all the time, and I found it very hard to divorce my feelings about the “brilliant music artist Michael Jackson” from the “scandalous Michael Jackson” being trotted out in the tabloid headlines all the time. I didn’t know what was true and what wasn’t, all I knew was that the constant melodrama swirling around him was tiresome. (I can only imagine how tiresome it was for him.)

Michael Jackson ONE

By the time of his death, I hadn’t followed his music in many, many years. This became apparent when I saw the new Cirque du Soleil show, Michael Jackson ONE. Sure, I recognized the hits I’d grown up with, but there were many songs I had never heard before. I had no idea some of his songs had such a political activist bent (They Don’t Care About Us, Earth Song), and I would have enjoyed them when they first came out had I known. That’s one of the things I liked most about this show: It reintroduced me to the Michael Jackson I once admired and also showed me a side of him I hadn’t known before. It filled in the gaps.

Scene from Michael Jackson ONE

Clumsy, Shy, Smarty Pants, and Sneaky surrounded / photo credit: Isaac Brekken

The plot—yes, there is one–revolves around four nerdy teenagers (Clumsy, Shy, Smarty Pants, and Sneaky) who get their hands on some Michael Jackson memorabilia—his sunglasses, his hat, his shoes, his gloves–which become endowed with a magical power to transform each teen, giving them some of Michael’s signature dance moves (moonwalking, the lean) and perhaps a bit of his spirit, too. Do yourself a favor before seeing the show and read this outline of the acts and characters. The show makes sense without knowing these things, but having the information ahead of time definitely adds more layers to it. If nothing else, it helps to know the characters’ names.

Michael Jackson ONE is not like any of the other Cirque du Soleil shows that I’ve seen, yet it certainly has the Cirque stamp on it. There is more emphasis on dancing (really spectacular dancing) and music in this show than there normally is—yet there is still enough acrobatics to keep Cirque fans happy. There’s even a very good KA-like battle sequence between Shy and the nemesis of the piece.

Michael Jackson ONE

This show is marked by fabulously-choreographed dance routines / photo credit: Isaac Brekken

The star of the show is Michael Jackson, of course. You might wonder how it’s even possible for someone to permeate a show four years after he died. You’d be surprised, as I was. They’ve done a fantastic job of including Michael in every aspect of the show—not just his music, his trademark clothing, his signature dance moves, but also in multimedia—audio and video clips of Michael speaking, singing, dancing. His image and voice are in front of you, in your ears, and all around you in the theater much of the time. You feel his spirit throughout the show.

My favorite numbers, unsurprisingly, usually coincided with my favorite Michael Jackson songs: Beat It is the perfect, upbeat song to open with, it really put the audience in the right mood. Billie Jean features dancers wearing LED costumes on a darkened stage—a visual effect that was breathtaking. Bad was a fun number, with a double slackline routine and dancers dressed as ’80s street kids. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ showcased the coolest hat-juggling sequence EVER. Smooth Criminal featured great integration of Michael on video, and dancers performing “the Lean”, which the audience went crazy for.

The Lean

The “Lean” / photo credit: Aaron Felske

Thriller featured the uber-cool Vincent Price voiceover, as well as “the Undead” dancing down the aisles and descending from the ceiling. It made me feel like I was inside the Thriller music video itself. It was pretty damn cool. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better than that, Man in the Mirror completely blew me away. I won’t tell you how; I don’t want to spoil it. But it was major.

Simply put, this is the best new show on the Strip. If you’ve ever loved Michael Jackson’s music—even if you have conflicted feelings about the man himself—you should see this show. Why is it so great? The whole package: The music, the dancing, the acrobatics, the multimedia aspect of the show–there’s so much going on during every minute of the show, it takes a few minutes for your senses to adjust (even in a city of sensory overload like Las Vegas!).

Glitz is all fine and well, but there’s a lot of heart in this show, too.I find that the older I get, the more that matters to me. I definitely got teary-eyed during some acts, particularly those featuring Michael singing as a little boy. The overall message of the show came through loud and clear: We should always be striving to be better and to make the world a better place.


Scene from the Thriller routine / photo credit: Aaron Felske

Even though I was never tempted to see him in concert when he was alive, now, after seeing Michael Jackson ONE, I wish I had. I found myself finally—finally–being able to separate my feelings about his troubled personal life with the musical genius that he was. Now I can listen to his music again and truly enjoy it on its own terms.

Preview the show:



Postscript: A Cautionary Tale

When shows like this say “no photography,” they mean it. Two women in the row behind me were “escorted” out of the show by a security guard about a third of the way into the show for taking photos. If they paid as much for their tickets as I did mine, that was $240 (combined) they might as well have lit on fire.

I know that people always try to push the envelope on these things because they think the rules are about greed or control of images. But in this case, they’re not. The rules are for the safety of the performers.

The theater is often quite dark, yet the performers are still in motion, both on-stage and above you, suspended from wires. Can you imagine trying to perform the feats they do, while avoiding obstacles (including each other), in the pitch dark? One small distraction could lead to a mistake which could lead to a performer being injured or worse.

So keep the cell phones and cameras turned off. Be present in the moment and just enjoy the show.

Photo credit: All images used in this post courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

18 thoughts on “Michael Jackson ONE: The ONE Show You Can’t Miss

  1. DB

    Thank you so much for reviewing this show! Glad you loved it. Grew up w/Michael Jackson’s music during the 80’s, and when I heard about this new show in Vegas I knew I have to go see it. Unfortunately, the show/theater is ‘dark’ on the days that I’m gonna be in Vegas at the end of the month (8/20-8/28). Bummer! But I’ll be back in October so I’ll have to catch the show then. Great post!

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Oh, DB, I can relate. It took me years to see KA because it was always dark during Labor Day week, when I normally visited. It wasn’t until I went to Vegas at Christmas that I was able to see it. Definitely do try to see it in October. Heck, I may go see it again!

  2. Tisha McClinic

    Great review!! It sounds like they have made some changes (for the better) since the show was touring last year. And I agree, reviewing the cast of characters ahead of time would be helpful. All of this makes me want to see it again when I’m in Vegas next month. Decisions, decisions…..

  3. Sterlingguy

    $240? You paid $240 for one ticket or did they give you a comp ticket? Your review and accompanying publicity photos sound like a paid advertisement. I saw the show and thought it was just ok– not anywhere near the excitement or quality of Ka, Mystere, O, or Love. It was lots of mediocre dancing and videos of MJ with a little- very little- cool stuff. (Also, I read your post about how great the Venetian was– and, at the end, how they comped you a free suite-but that didn’t affect your opinion. Yeah, right.)

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Sorry for the confusion, no I paid $120 for my ticket. I assume if the 2 women behind me paid the same for each of their tickets, it was $240 combined. And no, this is not a paid advertisement or sponsored post; if it were, I’d have said so. I often use publicity stills for shows or restaurants that I review where I either can’t take photos or my photos didn’t come out very well. Why? Because a big block of text with no accompanying photos can be boring for readers. You didn’t like the show, huh? Well, it’s definitely not typical Cirque du Soleil. If you’re mostly a fan of the Cirque acrobatics, then I can see why you didn’t enjoy it as much. As for the Venetian/Palazzo, I’ve stayed there before on my own dime and was just as enthusiastic when I wrote about it for my blog. I just like the place, what can I say?

      1. Sterlingguy

        Thanks for your reply. But in terms of how one likes a property or not, if you’re given a free suite for a couple of days vs. having to having to pay $400 or so, your view of the value of the property is going to be affected. Of course we all like free- but the only way to really know if a property is worth it, is if you have to pay for it- then you can make an accurate value judgement of cost/benefit. That’s why Consumer Reports, Fodor’s, and Frommer’s refused to accept free hotel rooms to judge.

        1. Gray Cargill Post author

          Hi, Sterlingguy, Obviously, if you have your mind made up, I won’t be able to change it. But in this particular case, you’re wrong. I went into my stay at the Palazzo already loving the hotel because I have stayed there before–and paid for that first stay 100% out of my own pocket. You’ll see that the review I wrote after that stay I paid for is even MORE positive than the one I recently wrote: http://www.vegassolo.com/hotel-review-the-palazzo/ Why? Because I LOVED it! It was worth every penny I paid for it! But as to the other point, that comps will affect your opinion about something, I have to argue with that too. First off, I won’t accept comps for something I know I won’t like or that I’ll never be able to write anything positive about (like, say, Hooters), and I won’t lie and say I had a great time when I didn’t. Will I consider my word choice carefully when I express my honest opinion? Sure. I might point out that I didn’t like it because it didn’t suit my tastes or personality, but that it might appeal to someone very different from me, or something like that. More likely, I’ll point out both the negatives of a place as well as the positives to present some balance. But I do that for all my reviews. There’s always a kind way of being honest, even if what you have to say is critical of a place. You don’t have to rip something to shreds to get the point across.

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      I thought I’d love it going into it, too, JoAnna, but those are often the times when you’re most disappointed (high expectations and all that). I’m so glad that wasn’t the case this time. Glad to hear you loved it, too!


    Great show, saw it live in july. but i don’t care how you feel about Michael Jackson because you never met the man in real life.

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Agreed, Kareem. That was pretty much my point. And one of the points of the show, I believe. We can never really “know” someone via media; we at least can’t know the totality of who they are–or were.

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