What's It Like To Play Michael Jackson's Pet Chimp?

Houston native Terrance Harrison plays Bubbles in Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour

By Elise Rambaud Marrion August 4, 2014

Costumes: Zaldy Goco. ©2011 Cirque-Jackson I.P., LLC

Image: OSA Images

Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson: The Immortal
Aug 8 & 9 at 8
Toyota Center
1510 Polk St.

By age 12, Terrance Harrison had earned a reputation in his Spring Branch–area school. He wasn’t the class clown, teacher’s pet, or a schoolyard brawler. Harrison was a tumbler.

His reputation for self-taught flips and acrobatic moves earned him a spot on the school stage with former Houston Rockets guard Calvin Murphy at an anti-drug assembly. Harrison’s talent was discovered that day and he’s been on stage ever since.

A graduate of Northbrook High School and University of Houston Downtown, Harrison will return to his hometown this weekend, August 8 & 9, to perform with Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour at the Toyota Center.

Terrance Harrison

Image: OSA Images

“After I met Calvin Murphy I wouldn’t stop calling the Rockets mascot, Turbo, begging to train with him,” Harrison told me recently. “I eventually got to perform with the Rockets’ Power Dancers and Team Acro Dunk, and I stayed there until I was 19. Houston is where it all started for me, so coming home to Houston hospitality, family, and friends is always an incredible feeling.”

After performing with the Rockets, Harrison ventured out on his own in Los Angeles, performing in commercials, films, and videos with artists such as Snoop Dogg, Jennifer Lopez, Kanye West, Rihanna and OutKast.

Houston audiences hoping to recognize Harrison’s face on the stage might be disappointed. He spends the majority of the show under a rubber and fur mask as Michael Jackson’s long-time companion, Bubbles the Chimp, but he appears in human form as part of the dance ensemble in a few numbers.

Now in his second tour with Cirque du Soleil, Harrison said the Michael Jackson Immortal show elicits an emotional response from audiences he has never experienced before.

“Most Cirque du Soleil shows are abstract and elegant with hauntingly surreal, original music, but this show is different,” he said. “It has all the same beauty and elegance, but this is more like a rock concert. The audience identifies with the music. You can see them singing along, and there are even some weepy eyes out in the audience. You can see them remembering Michael and how his music impacted their lives. It’s hard to keep dry eyes on stage.”

Terrance Harrison as Bubbles the Chimp, center

Image: OSA Images

Cirque du Soleil publicist Laura Silverman said the Immortal tour is a departure from the company’s previous shows, but is a natural fit for Jackson’s body of work and artistic vision. The 11-piece live band that plays Jackson’s music includes four musicians who previously toured with Jackson.

“Michael Jackson and Cirque du Soleil have quite a bit in common, and MJ was actually a big fan of our shows,” Silverman said. “Both are known for pushing the boundaries of the human body, pursuing perfection, and giving audiences something extraordinary they have never seen before. This is the only show in partnership with his estate, and we have the full blessing of his family, so we can celebrate his legacy the right way.”   

Returning home, Harrison hopes to snag a few free moments to meet with family and friends and visit some of his favorite restaurants.

“I really miss good barbecue and Tex-Mex, but I will have to take it easy if I want to fit in my costumes,” he said. “The Bubbles outfit isn’t so bad, but my other dance costumes won’t hide a thing.”  

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