Must-See Live Performances

Let television revel in living-room drama; two productions this winter deliver ambitious stories that work only as live performance. Delirium is Cirque du Soleil’s stock-in-trade (though it sometimes arrives unmoored from emotion). The latest blockbuster out of Montreal, Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour (Rogers Arena, Nov. 4 to 6; 604-280-4444., re-creates a concert by the King of Pop—if aerialists, stilt walkers, and such were members of the band. Exuberance and panache link MJ and Cirque, and their night together should be suitably epic.

Smaller in scale but even larger in vision is Penny Plain (The Cultch, Nov. 17 to Dec. 17; 604-251-1363. by Ronnie Burkett, arguably the world’s leading puppeteer. This Canadian iconoclast long ago outgrew the easy laughs and dirty innuendo of his early career; his work over the last decade has wrung pathos, defiance, and transcendence from the marionettes, sets, and stories he crafts in his Toronto studio. In this show, a blind shut-in stands watch over the apocalypse. She will not go out with a whimper.