Source: Michael’s Heart – By Betty Brynes
“You want what you create to live, be it sculpting, painting, music, composition. That is why to escape death I attempt to bind my soul to my work.” ~~~ Michael Jackson
MJ One is an experience like no other; just as Michael Jackson was an entertainer like no other. Where Immortal started the rolling wave of excellence to honor Michael Jackson and his legacy which has traveled around the world… MJ One catapults it to a whole new dimension. I’ve heard it said Immortal was like the MJ ice cream and cake and MJ One is like a super sized serving with sprinkles, whip cream and cherry on top. There is no way I could ever explain or break down this show song by song. Nor would I want to as it’s simply an adventure that truly needs to be experienced personally.
Every time I’ve attended, which is four times now, I’ve seen and experienced something new from different areas of the theater. As with all Cirque Shows it is changing, evolving as a living thing, creatively growing each time. This fact is so reassuring to me as a huge MJ fan because we all know Michael was a perfectionist. The fact that Cirque du Soleil continues to listen, digest their own creation and change it for the better on a continual basis gives credence to the fact that they highly respect the genius of Michael Jackson and his artistry. When the fans were asked to attend the show and write a review I was absolutely thrilled and honored. Having already purchased a ticket for the MJ One early show and MJ pre-party birthday celebration in Vegas I now would also be attending the very special second show.
I had two tickets for the second show and for me it was imperative I needed to invite someone special. I prayed knowing that God had someone in mind for that assignment. I felt it needed to be someone who had not seen the show yet… so they could share this first experience. I wanted to watch the expression on their face as MJ One touched their senses for the first time. I really had no idea what God had in store. I waited for weeks to ask someone and then the doors opened and I knew who would be my special guest… Michael Kiss (MK). A very long time fan of Michael Jackson’s, also an MJ impersonator who is performing in Vegas at the V Theater, a member of the Michael Jackson Fans of Southern California (MJFSC) Face Book group and more importantly a friend. He happily felt very blessed to attend the second show with me.
At the first show God blessed me as a gentleman from the UK sat next to me. He had traveled from London just to see MJ One. A very long time, huge, die hard MJ fan he expressed as I have so many times, “I was never able to see Michael Jackson in concert when he was alive. This is the closest I will ever come to that. It is second best but it helps ease the thought that he is no longer with us.”
I began this journey as I do all my Michaeling adventures with eyes and heart open wide and great expectations. As has been my experience since Michael’s death special things happen… one just needs to remain open to God’s plan. Many times I have written about and expressed the Lord’s touch on my life when it comes to Michael. I’ve had so many experiences where I end up meeting someone who knew Michael or going somewhere I had not intended on going… led there… dare I say by Michael. The brush of an angel’s wing and I am suddenly speaking to someone who worked with or knew Michael. In every instance it always astounds and amazes me. You would think I’d get used to such happenings by now; however like a child at Christmas each time is so exciting and I’m just simply blown away.
This particular Michaeling adventure started at the airport. Sitting quietly alone in the terminal thinking about how unfriendly airports can be. They are filled with so many people yet very few talk or interact. Each person in their own world, traveling, focused on getting where they need to go. Almost everyone is on a phone or ipad or listening to their ipods. Personal, invisible, protective barriers set in place. The young girl in short shorts (do they even call them that anymore?) across from me listening to her ipod gets up and leaves her seat empty… another young girl looking very much like her and also listening to her ipod takes her place… then she too leaves. A man pushing a wheel chair takes her place. The gray haired gentleman wearing a nice brown tweed suit and blue A’s baseball cap reminds me of my dad. I look at the man maneuvering the wheelchair as he sits across from me. He is wearing a comfortable track suit, checking his phone and I confirm to myself that I must be loosing my mind, that I’ve obviously completely MJ’d out. Wondering if I am outwardly mouthing the words, “Wow… he looks very much like Travis Payne.” Then I think to myself… take a picture and look again. So I take an unauthorized picture of this unwitting stranger and he jumps up and wheels the gentleman away. I think again to myself, “You idiot now you’ve done it. It was Travis Payne and you made him uncomfortable with over the top fandomness… but then I think… nawh get over yourself… that couldn’t have been Travis Payne anyway.” He talks to the flight attendant at the desk and glances back at me as I pretend to take pics of the airport flight sign like any real touristy, tourist would do… right? Maybe that will cover the fact that I snapped a pic of him on the sly like a stalker paparazzo. I decide I’m out of my mind for both sneaking pics and thinking it is Travis Payne and toss the camera back in my purse. He then returns to the same seat across from me and parks the chair next to the end facing me. I can’t help but look straight at him… giving a curious glance… making eye contact… and then he smiles. Yes that smile! It is definitely Travis Payne. ‘The’ Travis Payne that all MJ fans know who traveled, performed and created with Michael Jackson on such a personal level for so many years. I smile back and say, “Hello. Are you going to Vegas?” He responds with a nod, his eyes lighting up as he says, “Yes and you?” My mouth is moving as I speak and words come out but I’m not sure it’s me talking… I mean what are the friggin’ chances of sitting across from Travis Payne and his father? I hear myself excitedly respond, “Yes. MJ One!” He says, “Oh yes I’m going to see MJ One too.” I blurt out, “Yes! I know you ARE!” I mean where else would he be going on MJ’s birthday… right? He smiles big and introduces me to his father, “I’m taking my family too. This will be our first time to see it together. There will be seven of us. This is my father, Dr. Payne.” He graciously introduces me as an MJ super fan who is keeping MJ’s legacy alive. I am so honored as he hospitably pats the seat between him and his dad and invites me to sit between them and chat. I readily accept the offer feeling like I’m talking with old friends. Travis is such a kind, sincere and generous hearted person with the fans. He truly has learned so much from Michael… or maybe it just comes naturally for him. After meeting his parents I do believe the later may be the case. Although so many times I’ve met those who worked closely with Michael and they are so down to earth and kind. You can see why Michael was so comfortable with them.
As conversation proceeds I learn his father is a huge music fan and has an entire basement lined with vinyl LPs of all types of music. So many genres and musicians you could not begin to list them all. We begin to talk about the surround sound chairs and music immersion of the MJ One theater and his eyes light up as he shares about his six speaker surround sound in his basement. Clearly Travis has inherited his father’s deep musicality. I just know I need a picture to document this moment in time with these two beautiful men. So I enlist another traveler who has been observing the unusually friendly airport scene and he happily obliges. I am caught off guard when Dr. Payne kindly asks me where I am from originally and I share, “California… but I moved all over as my dad was a big part of NASA. I am a NASA brat.” Normally when traveling it’s all about Michaeling… fans don’t take the time to learn too much about one another as we are busy sharing the latest Michaeling adventure. I know this is something I am guilty of. The warm feeling of Dr. Payne’s genuine interest reminds me this must change. Then Travis asks where I’ll be sitting at the show… I tell him. I’ll look for you and say hello to you and your family or at least wave hello… if that is ok.” He warmly responds, “Absolutely! Please do.” Then as I reach out to shake his father’s hand good-bye Travis says, “Dad doesn’t like to shake hands. He likes to hug.” I happily ask if I can hug him. He nods responding with a jovial, “Of course you can.” I proceed to hug my new found friend, Dr. Payne, expressing a heartfelt, “It was so nice to meet you.” Travis is so kind and eloquently charming just like his father. Then as it’s now time to board we move from our seats toward the boarding tunnel. I am traveling to Vegas on board with Travis Payne and his lovely father. Surreal doesn’t begin to explain the feeling as I wonder silently, “If this is how my trip is starting, dear Lord, what will be next?”
The MJ fans who have taken advantage of the special offer from Mandalay Bay for Michael’s 55th birthday receive a special gift bag with each room. In the gift bag is a surprise invitation to a Meet and Greet in the MJ One gift shop with Joe Vogel, author of “Man In The Music.” We are surprised to learn Matt Forger, Michael’s private music engineer for many, many years is also there to meet fans. Then as the doors open we move inside the lobby for delicious cupcakes and celebration of what would have been Michael’s 55th birthday. There are many present who worked with Michael for many years. So much talent is present and so much respect for Michael. Present for the fans to greet and talk with are John Branca, Jamie King, Greg Phillinganes, Rich and Tone Talauega and Travis Payne. Many pictures are taken and autographs given. It’s such a delight to talk to these amazingly talented people.
The show, MJ One, is simply that magical place I never want to leave…. if only it could be the never ending journey .
The music first of all is absolutely amazing… ALL Michael Jackson… thanks to the genius of Kevin Antunes’ and his respectful sensitivity to handling and mixing Michael’s voice, music and songs. There has always been a therapeutic healing in Michael Jackson’s music that reaches souls from the smallest of children to the oldest of adults. Kevin Antune’s has blended the songs so well you just drift effortlessly from one MJ hit song and back to another. The joined forces and amazing artistic creation of Cirque’s Welby Altidor along with the highly energetic, creative talent of Jamie King incorporate all eras of Michael’s long career. Also the amazing co-choreography talent of Travis Payne and the brothers Rich and Tone Talauega bring respect and homage to MJ covering decades of sharp, signature dance moves, music and creativity. They all have the absolute highest respect and love for Michael Jackson and readily will tell you it is their honor and privilege to bring credit to him on all levels. I’m so surprised to know that the Talauega brothers remember me from the BAD 25 premier in Hollywood. In talking to the brothers again at the birthday party they emphatically shake their heads in assured confirmation that they would have it NO other way than to show absolute respect for Michael and work for excellence in his memory. This is always a joyful conversation with any of these talented artists. Knowing that MJ’s reputation and legacy are safe with them is very affirming. Also very reaffirming is to see and hear from John Branca and Karen Langford that Michael’s legacy is in tact and guarded. Knowing they protect Michael’s legacy for his children is very reassuring.
The entire phenomenal cast of MJ One, from Mother Earth to the acrobats and the pole dancer who takes pole dancing to a whole other artistic level in Dirty Diana…. everyone… they all defy description. The mind boggling circus sights and acrobatics of the Cirque cast as they fly through the air over the audience on ropes, giant rubber bands and trampolines; as well as beautifully choreographed MJ moves of the dancers are transformative. It is just the most perfect melding of all that was Michael and the art and joyful fun he loved. Watching them defy gravity as acrobats light up and moon walk down the walls, magically glide across the stage or float above you literally lifts your spirit with restorative energy.
There are gasps, cheers, oohs and aahs, spontaneous bursts of applause for most all the songs… the energy is high… very high. At the end of the first show the gentleman from the UK sitting next to me openly shares his awe and wonder and ecstatically proclaims while shaking his head in disbelief, “I have traveled all over the world to see the most incredible shows and I have to say this is the first time I have EVER experienced literal snow falling in the audience. Combine that with Michel’s appearance as a hologram, just everything else, along with Michael’s music… this has to be the best show I’ve ever seen!”
The sights… the sounds mesmerize with the ‘Magic that is Michael Jackson’ as his music and voice tenderly grip your inner child and take you out to play on a Michael journey where only the sweet innocence of Michael’s creative inner child could ever take you. No other artist has ever been able to personally touch so many on a global level with his voice and music, reaching deep into their inner core. Michael’s music is a personal experience felt with the aid of total sound immersion from 5,500 surrounding speakers. You not only feel it… you live total spontaneous immersion in the MJ One theater which also includes personal speakers in each seat. You can’t help but breath in the feast for the senses, visions dancing over head and flying through the air as the sound envelopes you. MJ One is simply a phenomenal, rejuvenating and euphoric experience.
Even before the music, dancers and acrobats fill the theater for the special birthday show we are led into MJ’s fantastical wonderland enjoying his fun sense of humor as the misfit actors in the show mess with the audience pretending to steal seats and the paparazzi sneak up and take pictures. One audience member, a lady who is targeted by the gang of red coated pap poses like Marilyn Monroe and flaunts it for the cameras… playing back to them. The audience laughs and applauds her. Then just as suddenly the same actors who were messing with the audience are on stage and the show begins.
Our seats are in the most advantageous place so far, right in the middle of the front section, three quarters up from the stage. Far enough away to see all that is happening around you and close enough to see details on stage. I mention this because the fans continue to ask where the best seats are. These are them! Although I have to say there are seriously NO bad seats in the MJ One Theater.
As we watch the pap & misfits messing with the audience the long row of seats next to me remains empty. Memories of the surprise at the Staples Immortal premier flutter through my mind when I realized I was sitting next to the Jackson brothers and right behind Chris Tucker and his son. Glancing over I see Travis Payne entering with his family. His dad is right next to him. I’m thrilled to see his mother is also with him now. I look at MK and jokingly say, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if Travis came and sat in these empty seats next to me.” MK responds with a nod back toward Travis and his family as they make their way down the isle toward me. Sure enough Travis moves with his father down the isle and sits smack dab next to me, leans over and with a knowing grin says exactly what I’m thinking, “God is good!” I wholeheartedly agree out loud with him, “Yes He is!” Then he motions to his dad, “Look Dad, here is the lady we met at the airport.” We all smile and say hello again and this time I’m also pleased and privileged to meet Travis’ lovely and gracious mother, Inez.
The show begins… Dr. Payne is bopping in his chair to the music. He definitely feels it. Both Travis and I laugh in agreement… we are feeling it too. The energy level beginning to amp up. To begin to describe MJ One in detail is a disservice to anyone going to see it. First I would not want to ruin the experience for you; however beyond that it is just indescribable and MUST be experienced.
There are many favorite highlights in the show for me…. the acrobats who burst onto the stage for ‘Smooth Criminal’ and the perfect amazing lean. ‘Thriller’ is one of my favorite sequences and very much incorporates the audience as the dancers fill the isles creeping along, falling from the sky and ultimately there is an army of creepy ghouls doing the Thriller dance everywhere. The energy is incredibly intense and uplifting eliciting thoughts of how utterly amazing Michael’s personal performing energy must have been, as I’ve been told it was many times the energy of MJ One.
Another amazing act is ‘Human Nature’ as a dancer who seemingly boneless performs an incredibly fluid routine, clearly inspired by Michael Jackson. Each song and act a burst of sensory immersion therapy! However the literal gentle snowfall during ‘Stranger in Moscow’ is a sensory delight as the cool snow flakes land and melt on my face and hands and the MJ One program which lays across my lap.
The second show I sit between Travis Payne and Michael Kiss (MK). I had warned MK that it’s a very emotional show so he came prepared with a pack of tissues. As soon as the first beat hits Travis is moving in his seat… it simply just in his DNA… so many years touring, working, creating with Michael Jackson… the moves, the notes, the words are in his blood. It was so surreal to sit next to Travis and hear him Wooooo and Ooooo and point at the precise time during ‘They Don’t Really Care About Us’ and ‘Jam.’ Incredibly surreal to see him dancing along in his seat with the dancers for ‘Beat It’ and ‘Black or White’. He is impressed by the incredible skill of the Cirque trampoline acrobats, yelling out cheers and then leaning in to explain his cheering. He exclaims with a huge smile of absolute joy, “What you just saw… that is entertainer’s envy.”
The laughter and cheers turn to tears during ‘Thriller’ and ‘Man in the Mirror’ where the hologram bestows the misfits with magical dust and then turns into a young MJ. Travis dabs his eyes with the tissues I pass between him and MK. Some routines and songs are clearly more emotional and moving for him holding so many memories of years spent with Michael on stage. Although there were so many stunning moments the incredibly moving hologram during ‘Man In The Mirror’ is the highlight of the show for me.
I knew once Travis sat next to me he would be the true test for me about the hologram. As with anything for Michael since his death there has been controversy and the hologram has been no different. I really try to stay away from all controversy and trust the Estate will not allow anything to be done that would not be in excellent taste. True to this standard I was reassured at my first viewing of the hologram they again had not let Michael, Michael’s children and mother, or the MJ fans down. I personally always wanted the hologram, for me as for millions of others who were not so lucky to see Michael perform in person it’s the very closest I’ll ever come to seeing Michael in concert. For me it is mystifying, magical, and affirming that many around the world continue to be blessed by Michael’s magic. I have felt that magical dust over me in the many chance meetings with MJ’s colleagues and friends over the last four years. Tears flow here, tissues are passed again. The show moves on but for me the hologram is absolutely the pinnacle! MJ One would not be the same show or have the same magic without the hologram… it is simply beautiful… just so magical… SO Michael.
My feelings are confirmed as Travis emotionally dabs his eyes. MK who sits to my right is overwhelmed with tears. He loves Michael Jackson and respects him so much. I am so happy he is able to share these moments with me. He laughs at the shenanigans of the actors with the moving glittery glove that has a mind of it’s own. He gasps, cheers, claps and tears flow. I pass the tissues from MK to Travis and then back again many times. At one point I’m crying too. Who could not cry sitting between these two men experiencing this. So I grab a tissue too and dab my eyes.
As the show ends and we rise out of our chairs I say good bye to Travis’ father, Dr. Payne, and mother, Inez. Then feeling a kindred soul experience ask him if I can hug him, without hesitation he says, “Absolutely!” We give each other a giant bear hug. I feel so blessed to have experienced this night with him. I have held my program in my lap throughout the show allowing the snow to dry on it so I can literally save the memories and ask Travis to sign it. He is happy to oblige as I whip a handy sharpie out of my bag and he smiles and nods approvingly at my preparedness. Then as we turn around suddenly he is swamped as audience members realize who he is. Well they also could have gotten a big clue when he flew up out of his seat to dance at the end of the show or during TDRCAU pointing to the heavens with huge spontaneous OOOOOoooooo in just the precise moment. I too along with others could not contain myself to stay in my seat and needed to jump up, clap, dance and yell. Then truly that is what the life blood of MJ’s music does to us who live it… love it. How amazing to be standing and cheering for Michael on his birthday with both Travis and MK. There was no need to ask Can You Feel It? The evidence was everywhere… the LOVE was everywhere. We miss you Michael! We celebrate you Michael on what would have been your 55th birthday. The world will never be the same… but we… those who love you will continue to keep your legacy alive… your L.O.V.E. alive.
Vegas Morning Blend TV interview with Travis Payne: