The King of Pop reigns in MJ Live
If there were a way to measure Michael Jackson’s continuing popularity nine years after his passing, the atmosphere on any given night at MJ Live is a good indication. Nearly every seat is filled inside the Stratosphere Theater, with children decked out in fedoras and spangled gloves dancing next to their parents’ tables. The audience is assured in a video introduction that they’re attending a performance of “the No. 1 Michael Jackson show in the world,” a statement that sets the bar high in a city closely associated with the King of Pop.
MJ Live offers fans their own personal Neverland for an evening, and from the opening snatches of “Dangerous” that launch the show, most everyone is enthralled and smiling. It’s almost as if the idea of Jackson is enough to make people happy, but it’s up to entertainers such as Jalles Franca, the MJ one recent night, to inhabit Jackson’s persona—from several eras—and sustain the illusion. By the time Franca is in full effect and the three-piece band is rocking out on “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” the indication from the crowd response is that the fans on hand are impressed and willing to suspend disbelief.
There’s definitely no other show in Las Vegas where a singer decked out like his Bad-era, leather-bound hero does Jackson-style dance moves in such close proximity to the folks at the front tables. Eight backup dancers, four male and four female, heighten the excitement with precision choreography and thematic synchronicity to songs such as “Dirty Diana” and “Black or White.” A live drummer, guitarist and keyboardist re-create Jackson’s music on stage, giving the show an organic feel that a prerecorded soundtrack wouldn’t provide.
While Franca thanks the audience profusely for the existence of the show, the pressure is on for he and his fellow MJs to maintain the momentum. Jackson’s dance moves must be executed convincingly, as must his emotive deliveries from non-dance tracks such as “She’s Out of My Life” and “Human Nature.” Oversized afros are donned as MJ Live transports back to the Jackson 5 years for “ABC” and “I’ll Be There,” while gangster wear and zombie attire mark “Smooth Criminal” and “Thriller,” respectively. Franca’s homage to Jackson’s gravity-defying lean is a highlight, garnering gasps from the crowd.
Reactions can be so enthusiastic that it seems as if some people on hand came to Las Vegas mainly for a Michael Jackson tribute. The Stratosphere offers an MJ Live “Thrill Package” that includes a buffet visit and a thrill ride at the top of the casino-hotel’s tower, but for many visitors there’s enough thrill in seeing “Man in the Mirror” and “Billie Jean” re-created live, fronted by performers that both move the crowd and move through the crowd. Jackson’s spirit is alive and well at MJ Live, where his popularity remains as strong as ever.
Stratosphere, 7 p.m. daily, $59.95-$97.56 VIP booth plus tax and fee. 702.380.7777