Michael Jackson long has been intertwined with the Beatles and Elvis Presley.
In addition to his standing as a fellow all-time, chart-topping music legend, the late King of Pop also owned a substantial share of the publishing rights to the Beatles' back catalog, and he married Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie.
Now, Jackson is being mentioned with the Fab Four and The King for yet another reason: his life and music are being celebrated as theirs were with a Cirque du Soleil show.
"Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour" made its U.S. debut Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, only a handful of miles away from the old Motown Records headquarters where Jackson got his start as a member of The Jackson 5.
And like "The Beatles Love" and "Viva Elvis" shows, the two-hour Jackson-themed performance is designed to give audience members the flair and showmanship of Cirque coupled with the flair and showmanship of a Michael Jackson concert.
"Michael was a performer that was not just music. He was dance. He was cinema. He had a humanitarian side," said Kevin Antunes, the "Immortal" show's musical designer. "So, you can take all of that and put it all into the show. That's where I think the difference is."
The eye-popping, high-wire acrobatics and elaborate costuming that are a hallmark of any Cirque show are of course present, but there are a multitude of Jackson-specific touches.
Oversized versions of his signature accessories — glove and penny loafers — come to life during a rocking version of "Beat It," and airborne performers wearing LED suits light up the darkened arena to the strains of "Human Nature."
Jackson's best-known and loved dance moves are all there, too.
The Cirque performers do the patented "Smooth Criminal" lean-forward during a noir-ish, gangster-themed segment, and the first half of the show concludes with a rousing performance of "Thriller," which features the famous zombie boogie from the video in a Cirqued-up graveyard.
And of course, the moonwalk is represented, not only on stage, but on the massive video screens behind it, where footage of the man himself is displayed throughout the show.
In Detroit, Jackson's likeness drew a hearty ovation the first time it appeared. One woman loudly squealed: "We love you, Michael!"
The show's writer/director, Jamie King, knows a thing or two about Jackson, having started his music career as a backup dancer on the 1990s "Dangerous" tour. King says he "really wanted to create something that Michael would be proud of."
"It's not a biography-type show. It's really an artistic interpretation of Michael's life — Michael the man, Michael the artist," King said. "With Cirque on board, we already know it's going to be magical. With Michael's songs and what Michael stood for, it's already going to be huge."
That's where Antunes comes in.
Antunes, a longtime musical director and digital audio programmer who has worked in various capacities for artists ranging from Madonna and Justin Timberlake to Aerosmith and Jackson's sister, Janet, was given unique access to the pop legend's original multi-track master recordings and charged by King to create the musical backdrop for the show.
He spent a year re-designing and re-imagining dozens of Jackson's greatest original recordings. The result is Jackson's remixed vocals set to the music of a live band.
Epic Records on Nov. 21 will release "Immortal," which comes as both a double CD version or as a single disc. The double-disc offering features 37 tracks in all, condensing more than 40 of Jackson's greatest original recordings into a compilation that allows listeners to experience his music in a new way.
The album's music consists of remixed/remastered studio recordings, not live, and contains newly discovered outtakes such as alternate take on the Jackson 5's "ABC" and a vocals from a choir that Jackson recorded for "They Don't Really Care About Us."
And just as the Beatles and Elvis shows found a home in Vegas, so will "Immortal," which is to stop for several weeks in December at the Mandalay Bay Arena as part of the tour schedule. It will be accompanied by a special "Fan Fest" experience. Eventually, a new and different Michael Jackson-themed show will be created by Cirque du Soleil and take up permanent residence at the Mandalay Bay Theatre in Las Vegas. That show is being created now and is to open in 2013.
The tour will be in London, Ontario, and Toronto later this week. The next U.S. date is in Seattle next month. The show has performances scheduled through July 2012 with additional dates to be added. Following the North American leg, the tour will move to Europe.
Antunes said Jackson fans won't be disappointed.
"There's majestic, joyous moments, and then there's moments that make you remember when Michael was a kid and he was singing with his brothers and it brings tears to your eyes," he said. "You're filled with so much wonder and enjoyment with the theatrics that Cirque brings to the table.
"It's really incredible."
AP Music Writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody in New York contributed to this report. Follow Mike Householder at http://twitter.com/mikehouseholder