Michael Jackson, arguably the most famous entertainer that ever lived, had one close friend and confidant, Bubbles the chimp. So, of course, Bubbles has an important role in the Cirque du Soleil show Michael Jackson: THE IMMORTAL World Tour.
Former Houstonian Terrance Harrison plays Bubbles. It's a role that allows him the opportunity to show off lots of his talents. "Bubbles is a jack-of-all-trades," Harrison tells us. "He is very much a dancer, he's groovy, he's funny." He's also an acrobat and a bit of a clown. The actor/dancer is in full monkey costume throughout the show and like Bubbles, wears human clothes. Despite his non-chimp behavior (sorry, the real Bubbles couldn't do the "Thriller" dance), most children and some adults leave the show believing Harrison was a well-trained and talented ape.
Harrison doesn't mind being thought an animal. For three years, he played a dog in another Cirque show. "It's weird -- Cirque has picked me to play only animals, but really, I'm pretty good at portraying a human," he laughs.
The show is a retrospective of Jackson's musical career and a "what if?" look at the tour he was preparing at the time of his death. Filled with Jackson's music and Cirque's signature jaw-dropping acrobatics, THE IMMORTAL World Tour takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster. "It's a show that you should be ready to get up and dance, be ready to laugh and maybe even cry," says Harrison.
And it's not just the audience that gets teary during the performance. "I try not to get too caught up in the audience, because some people are just really moved to tears." One moment is especially moving, according to Harrison. It's when a video of Michael Jackson as a child singing "I'll Be There" is projected onto a large screen. "That is such a touching moment. I'm standing just behind the screen so I see this huge video of Michael Jackson's image. If I allow myself to take in the song, and listen to the crowd and listen to them crying out Michael's name, I'll get teary. But I can't because as soon as that song is over, I have to go out there and perform and be funny. I have to remind myself, 'Focus, focus! I'm here to work; I can't cry.'"
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Like many performers who once called Houston home, Harrison is being besieged by requests for tickets from dozens of friends and family members. "I am already slightly exasperated," he laughs. "With the kindest heart, I'm having to tell people, 'Look, I can't afford to get everyone in the building.' My list is already pretty big and it's growing.
"Now that I'm older, my friends are older and they have kids so they want tickets for their kids, too. What kind of person would I be if I said, 'No, your children can't come?' But it adds up, you know?"
Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour runs February 10 through February 12 at the Toyota Center, 1510 Polk. For information, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com or call 866-446-8849. Tickets are $50 to $175.