“Celebrating Michael’s 60th Birthday”

By: Kerry Hennigan

On Wednesday 29 August 2018 the Estate of Michael Jackson and the Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil resident show held its annual celebration of the pop icon’s birthday in Las Vegas. This year would have been Michael’s 60th birthday, and the event was duly billed as the Michael Jackson Diamond Celebration.

MJ fans from all over the world (including myself from Australia, my friends from Toronto, Canada, and others from Hong Kong) gathered on the afternoon of the 29th in the vicinity of the MJ ONE Theatre at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino for a “meet and greet” opportunity with Estate personnel and special guests, which included Michael’s costume designer Michael Bush (author of “The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson”) and musician Greg Phillinganes who worked with MJ over three decades and was the musical director for Cirque’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour (which I saw 14 times in 4 different countries… I think!)

There were 3 birthday cakes, two of which were divided up for all the fans in the MJ One theatre lobby (I missed out on this, but being gluten intolerant, wouldn’t have been able to eat it anyway; but I’m told they were delicious). Most of the fans in attendance had tickets to attend the 7 pm or 9.30 pm MJ One shows. On presentation of our tickets at the theatre door we were issued with invitations to the after party which was being held outdoors at the Daylight Beach Club commencing after the 7 pm show.

Before all of that though was the “intimate” Q&A with the Michael Jackson Estate personnel, for which special invitations had been issued to fans who had responded to the call for questions posted by the Estate’s on-line team earlier in the month. This was held in the bar area of RX Boiler Room restaurant in the Shoppes at Mandalay Place arcade. The submitted questions (or, a compilation thereof) were read out by an MC for Estate co-executor John Branca to answer. There were the inevitable calls for clarification or further information on some matters from those of us sitting in the books or standing at the bar tables around the bar, but Mr. Branca accommodated those as best he could in addition to the questions that had been prepared. The questions all pertained to further plans by the Estate for releasing new music, remastering videos, or opening a museum, and many other matters of interest or concern to fans.

There were no questions relevant to either of the MJ Cirque shows that I recall, and really, their track-record reflects the success of that creative collaboration. (I did overhear some fans – both from within the US and from overseas – comment how excited they were because it was to be their first time attending the MJ One show.)

After the meet and greet the action shifted back to the theatre lobby and boutique area at Mandalay Bay, which was where the pre-show red carpet parade of celebrities took place in front of a mass of media cameras. It was as “crazy” as the red carpet event I’d experienced at the official opening of MJ One back in 2013.

First into view were representative members of the show’s cast, who were eventually followed by three of Michael’s siblings who took their time talking to the media down the opposite end of the red carpet from my vantage point. The priority for my friends and I was to see Michael’s eldest two children, Prince and Paris, who were announced as attending the event.

Unfortunately the crush of the crowd was so intense, and show time drawing near, that we retreated to the MJ One theatre lobby and eventually to our seats inside the theatre. Somewhere in the middle of all that we did manage to grab something to eat at the nearby House of Blues restaurant across the casino floor. (High quality finger food had been offered around to the fans attending the Q&A in The Boiler Room, where there was also an open bar, but those of us with food allergies needed some digestible sustenance – and a chance to draw a breath in relative peace and quiet).

Every year that I attend MJ One shows I noticed differences – although last year I missed out because the show was closed in the wake of the tragic mass shooting in the vicinity of the hotel. In December 2016, however, I thought the slightly shortened version of the show I saw had ramped up the beat – and the excitement – considerably from what I previously experienced, and it was superb. This year I was a little less ecstatic because the early numbers seem to be too much of a mash-up for any particular song/performance to create much of an impact (apart from leaving one breathless!). Once thing settled down into the longer performances – like Dirty Diana and Earth Song, it was just like “old times” watching the show. Earth Song is my favourite segment, given that I spend most of the time watching the footage of Michael on the big screen – my favourite MJ song from what is probably my favourite MJ era. The mature man and his message bring me to tears.

The finale, as always, was a blast, with us clapping and stamping along with the cast as they came through the aisles. Finally, when the lights came up and people began to disperse, I spotted MJ One (and Immortal) director Jamie King walking out past our seats, and was able to speak to him and take photos. In addition to his work on the Estate/Cirque projects, Jamie is well-known to MJ fans for having toured as a dancer with Michael on the Dangerous World Tour after making his debut at MJ’s landmark Super Bowl half time performance in 1993. He has, of course, accrued a long and impressive list of credentials as a choreographer and director.

Now it was time to head off to the after-party which was in its very early stages when we reached the Daylight Club. The music was already pumping, and the VIPs were already arriving. There were curtained cabanas cordoned off on one side of the poolside Club for their use, but not all the special guests confined themselves to the area. I encountered This Is It director and Michael Jackson’s long-time friend and tour director Kenny Ortega standing at one of the poolside bars and chatted with him. Later I brushed right past Greg Phillinganes as he was making his way through the crowd – but didn’t notice until one of my friends pointed him out to me.

Sadly I we missed seeing the arrival of Prince and Paris Jackson. But really, after the hectic afternoon and evening we’d had, we “mature-age” fans were ready to head back to our respective hotel rooms. The Hong Kong gang stayed on and captured footage of Quinn Tivey, Elizabeth Taylor’s grandson, presenting Prince and Paris with a posthumous award for their father from the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. The award was in recognition of Michael Jackson’s many charitable contributions in both time and money, as well as the way he set up his Estate (which stipulates a percentage go to charities).

In promoting the event the Estate had highlighted the collaboration with the ETAF as a way of honoring Michael’s humanitarian legacy. It was an announcement that was greeted with unanimous approval by MJ fans everywhere. The greater recognition of this part of the pop icon’s life, and the importance he placed on it, is of high priority to many of us.

While I normally avoid visiting the American southwest during summer because of the usually high temperatures, this was one of the few occasions when I’ve suffered the heat for the sake of attending an extra special event. I’m pleased to say that the stars (in the firmament and on the planet) aligned to make it a night I’ll happily remember.