What should be said at the outset of this review is that it is a biased one. I am in fact a deep admirer of late American pop star Michael Jackson. I remember quite vividly my classmates in primary school in the 80s joining the craze that MJ had set upon the world with the release of his “Thriller” album.
One among them had it so bad that we all worried about her a little — she’d wear a silver glove to class and cry actual tears over his songs, his name, his picture. She was convinced, though still a child, that she would grow to marry him.
With this in mind, I picked myself up and headed off to the Cairo Opera House’s Main Hall to see a musical tribute for the youngest of the Jackson 5, entitled, “Man in the Mirror: Michael Jackson Forever.” I paid LE 200 for my ticket, as did all of those around me, seated on the stage level of the packed hall. I sat amongst the elegant ladies of Zamalek, a good deal of children (dressed in proper opera style), and even managed to hear an Australian accent as I shuffled to my seat in the center aisle. The audience fed my excitement as I saw how enthusiastic people were to be reminded of Michael Jackson.
The show began with a video compilation of American celebrities discussing their relationship with him immediately after his untimely death in 2009— a 50-something year old Liza Minnelli, a far more than 50-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, and various singers — Justin Timberlake, Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder. Each described their particular friendship with Michael, their respect for his genius and humility, their bereavement at his early passing.
By the time the curtain went up, I’d been properly affected by the nostalgia and a schmaltzy rendition of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” by the company brought tears to my eyes. This emotion unfortunately had nothing to do with their performance, which consisted of five singers at microphones wearing brightly colored velvet suits.
It was the depth to which Michael’s work, his complicated life and still complicated death, affected so many of my generation, and many more before and after it. This sentiment is in fact what “Michael Jackson Forever” entirely relies on. Without it, the show is not worthy of a booking in a B-grade Las Vegas cabaret.
How this show has made it to the Cairo Opera House is a mystery. How this show has come to associate itself with the King of Pop is of far greater inquisition, as it is a disservice to the legacy of Michael Jackson himself. For rather than a fitting tribute to a consummate performer whose contribution to dance is as great as his gift to pop music, what “Michael Jackson Forever” offers is a collection of simplistic and tired dances performed by an amateurish group of mostly white Americans who might just as soon move onto to a musical tour of “Our Town.”
Rather than bearing any capacity to honor songs imbedded into the history of Motown and those that made the top selling record of all time, “Michael Jackson Forever” instead is gas station cassette style medley of songs sung by three primary singers, only two of whom can in fact carry a tune, while the third, I assume, was probably selected for her slight resemblance to Janet Jackson.
Also on display is a collection of bizarre costume changes and pantomime, including a particularly ridiculous version of “We Are the World,” for which the company donned a collection of “ethnic” outfits one might find in a Disney World theme park. Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” had a similarly literal interpretation, in which a woman in black lingerie is tossed about by the men in mafioso suits.
It would venture into the comical to further express how deeply disappointing this performance was, yet last night’s audience remained generous and good spirited. Unfortunately, a few young men dancing in the balcony were far more entertaining, imaginative and supple than those onstage.
“Man in the Mirror: Michael Jackson Forever” closes on Monday, May 9. Cairo Opera House, Main Hall, 8 pm. Tel: (02) 2739 0132.