Michael Jackson’s spectacular This Is It show will go on, and the late King of Pop will appear in it thanks to high-tech multi-camera footage captured hours before his sudden death. Additionally, you can expect a commemorative DVD and CD recording of his final live rehearsal performance.
Solid facts and unconfirmed rumors about the show’s future are growing with intensity as I discovered in four days of exhaustive investigations both here in the United States and in Britain. Although it’s now definite that there will be a version of This Is It, it’s still not resolved whether Michael’s sister Janet will headline the repackaged show with her other brothers or a series of superstar pop singers will host the tribute presentations -- or a combination of both.
I can confirm all options are in the early discussion stages. The Jackson family also is exploring through a Beverly Hills, Calif., producer their own show for Las Vegas to mark Michael’s legacy.
At first, the This Is It shows will fill in for some of the London dates now vacant at the 02 Arena as a result of his death last week. Then, I am reliably told, despite the signed confidentiality agreements, preliminary discussions have taken place for a version of This Is It to go global, including an extended Las Vegas stop.
“Michael and his team had created the biggest, most spectacular live production ever seen. Over 12-plus weeks of rehearsals, it literally kept growing and growing larger than anybody could have imagined. It simply outgrew each one of the five rehearsal facilities that were used until they wound up in the Forum and then Staples Center after the L.A. Lakers won the NBA Championships,” I was told.
“That was the sole reason the London opening night was pushed back. It had nothing to do with his health. It just kept ballooning as they kept working on it. Michael was the perfectionist who only wanted the best for his fans.
“He said there would never be another show. He said there would never be another album. This was it in more ways than one.”
Michael himself gave the go-ahead a week ago today and last Wednesday for the final top-to-bottom run-through to be photographed and recorded in a multi-camera, multi-track, high-definition session. Click HERE for our story yesterday with the last photos taken by Kevin Mazur, the founder of WireImage who shot Michael’s Victory Tour and was set to photograph Michael in London.
Simultaneously, Michael also wrapped five weeks of special video production at the Culver Studios where he performed using four different sets. He planned to add some of this into the live arena production and for the eventual DVD release. Production on this separate video element will be completed the same week he was due to have the show’s world premiere in London on July 13.
It is absolutely definite that the concert promoters, AEG, have sufficient video and audio live recordings for an album and DVD -- and that the footage could be used in the future This is It shows. “It’s easy to imagine how Janet Jackson or other guest stars could sing duets with Michael as he is projected onto huge video screens,” another reliable source said. “Think how Natalie Cole did it with her late father Nat King Cole with ‘Unforgettable!’ ”
“Michael himself was even filming all the rehearsals from the very beginning -- and creating other video segments elsewhere. It’s not at all unrealistic to think they have 100 hours of audio and video footage.”
AEG President Randy Phillips wouldn’t confirm or deny it exists, is safely stored and is planned for release, which in my world is the same as silently acknowledging “it’s true.” I’m also reliably told that a respectable amount of time has to pass before official announcements are made. AEG is responsible for the Cher and Bette Midler shows at the Caesars Palace Colosseum here and the new Rogue Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel where they recently added Santana as a resident headliner.
“Michael’s funeral hasn’t even been held yet, so you can’t start announcing business ventures so soon. There would be a backlash of bad taste, but it’s all coming. There’s just too much money at stake, in the hundreds of millions,” one top insider told me. “Behind-the-scenes planning has already quietly begun. It will happen. The fans will get the show, the live album of 11 songs he performed in Staples and the DVD.”
The This is It cast of 80 dancers, musicians, magicians and aerial performers have not yet been fully released, and they have been asked to remain on stand-by for the show to go forward “sooner rather than later.” Lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe confirmed: “It was a complicated show and very ambitious. Truly spectacular and something that had never been seen or imagined previously. It was the most stunning and visual music spectacle you could have ever experienced.”
Concertgoers were to have been given 3D glasses for one haunted house video sequence with giant spiders and 20-foot-tall puppets onstage. Michael was filmed being suspended from a crane that swept him right out over the audience while singing “Dangerous.” In the opening sequence, a floating glass ball, or orb, that hung over stadium seats got brighter and brighter as it zeroed in on Michael until he held it in his hands and sang the first number “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.”
Six weeks ago, “Misfit of Magic” Ed Alonzo was added to Michael’s production to introduce more special effects. Ed, who created the illusions for Britney Spears’ Circus Tour when they appeared at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, said: “It was an incredible and amazing show. It was just a matter of days before being completed. Michael was energetic in the rehearsal run-through. His dance moves were dead on. It was the Michael of old as we knew him best -- breathtaking.” In addition to the trademark moonwalk, Michael also had created a new dance for the concerts.
Cameras recorded a bizarre sequence where Michael was “restrained” in a bed that burst into flames, albeit it of red dancing ribbons within the pyrotechnics. A pole-dancing aerialist “tormented” Michael as he lay trapped until a sheet of red fabric enveloped them -- and in split seconds dropped to reveal that Michael had vanished and the dancer was tied to the bedposts. Michael then appears on another stage!
Hollywood TV producer Ken Ehrlich, who masterminds the Grammys each year, attended the dress rehearsal six days ago on the eve of Michael’s tragic death. Michael and he met to discuss the TV special of This Is It that they both wanted to do, a documentary of how it was created from start to finish, plus concert highlights.
On that last night, Michael rehearsed from 6 p.m. until 1 a.m. and left Staples Center with plans to return the next day. By noon, he had died in sudden cardiac arrest. The entire world was shocked and his cast and crew stunned and in total disbelief as they sat awaiting Michael’s arrival, yet getting text messages of his death. Director and choreographer Kenny Ortega, who created Sirens at Treasure Island, announced the news to them.
Less than a week later in the best of showbiz tradition, it is the show must go on. Now we know it will. We don’t yet know the final form, but all the money and work invested in This Is It will be rewarded, and fans will see what undoubtedly would have been Michael Jackson’s final and crowning creative musical achievement.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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