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Cirque Du Soleil 'Immortal' tour brings Michael Jackson's essence to Tampa

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After three years touring with “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour,” Laurie Sposit still gets emotional when she sees audiences react to the legendary King of Pop.

“I can stand out there after every show and I'll see families put their arms around each other and cry,” says Sposit, 41, a dance captain who oversees dancers and choreography for the show, during a telephone interview. “It's very inspiring and also very touching.”

The Immortal World Tour by Cirque Du Soleil, which moonwalks into the Forum Tuesday and Wednesday, captures Jackson's essence, his energy and the message behind his music, says Sposit, with the creativity and acrobatics of Cirque Du Soleil.

“He had such a beautiful message,” says Sposit, who joined the tour in 2011. “You see (Jackson's) image, hear his voice and music, and see his moves. No one can replicate him, but it translates to the audience and it's a very powerful thing.”

The stage spectacle, one of two Jackson-themed Cirque shows (the other is in Las Vegas) features some 50 international dancers, musicians and acrobats, props and elaborate set designs to bring life to Jackson's music.

About 35 of his songs are featured in The Immortal Tour, with each serving as a story-telling platform for the dancers:

♦ “Wanna Be Starting Something” includes the gates of Neverland, where Jackson lived, and acrobats and dancers in tribal costumes

♦ “Beat It” highlights Jackson's famous accessories, a 6-foot-tall sequined white glove and a pair of 8-foot-long penny loafers

♦ A pole dancer performs while surrounded by gangsters in “Dangerous”

♦ Mummies boogie in the iconic “Thriller”

♦ “Billie Jean” brings out the popping-and-locking dancers

♦ “Smooth Criminal” dancers re-create Jackson's famous lean

Produced with the cooperation of Jackson's estate, the show features many collaborators who actually worked with the King of Pop, including the show's director, Jamie King, who was a dancer in Jackson's Dangerous world tour in 1992. And members of the live band, Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett and musical director George Phillinganes, also knew Jackson.

“These were people who actually worked (with Jackson) and understood him when he was alive,” says Sposit, who auditioned for his “This Is It tour.” “That really helps to bring an authenticity to the show and a real feel for what Jackson would have wanted.”

Sposit never met Jackson, but she's been a fan most of her life.

The native of Cleveland, Ohio, says she had Jackson posters plastered all over her bedroom walls, listened to his music, watched his videos and imitated his dance moves.

Now, she's in charge of making sure dancers in the show stay on point with their steps and the choreography is smooth.

“The first few weeks the show began, I probably cried every night,” says Sposit, who attended Jackson's televised funeral at the Staple Arena in Los Angeles. “To be a part of a tribute like this and to work with some of the best dancers in the business, it's like coming full circle for me. It never gets old.”

One of those dancers is Shondra Leigh, who still marvels at the magnitude of it all.

“You really can't prepare for something like this,” she says during a break from a performance stop in Charlotte, N.C. “This is the biggest show many of the dancers have ever done, including me. And we're paying tribute to Michael Jackson and his legacy. It doesn't get any better than this.”

Leigh says despite her years of dance experience, capturing Jackson's dance style is a challenge for any dancer.

“He had a style all his own,” says Leigh, a native of New Haven, Conn., who also auditioned for the Jackson-themed show in Las Vegas. “And he did it all: ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, freestyle, everything. Mastering his style is difficult. We've all grown with it, but it would take more than a lifetime to ever become as good as him. I've done over 500 shows and I still have to practice and make sure I'm always executing the moves the way he would have wanted it.”

The production also features more than 250 costumes, some adorned with 3-D printing and LED-light technology, as well as video projections of Jackson's performances along with real-time projections of the action on stage.

“The costumes and choreography are breathtaking,” said Sposit, who toured with Janet Jackson on her “All For You” tour. “The audience is going to recognize many iconic pieces from his (music) videos. That was all a part of who Michael Jackson was.”

Sposit, who has danced professionally more than 20 years, isn't able to perform as she once did because of back pain, but she says being a part of the Immortal Tour is the greatest accomplishment of her career.

“I have been a Michael Jackson fan for so long,” she adds. “All of us have. We studied him and idolized him and we know every song. The sadness is that he's gone, but his music and his legacy live on, and this show is part of that — they always will.”

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