Erich Bergen plays Four Seasons songwriter Bob Gaudio in "Jersey Boys," but he knows a lot more about Michael Jackson.
After watching the Sirens of TI rehearse their take on a dance piece set to Jackson's "Dirty Diana," Bergen tells the gals their work will be seen by choreographer Vincent Paterson, who is helming the new Elvis show at CityCenter. Paterson, he adds, not only co-directed the "Smooth Criminal" video with Jackson but "played the white gangster in the 'Beat It' video."
Later, Bergen -- in a pertinent reference, not show-offy -- mentions that the date of Jackson's HBO concert in Bucharest was Oct. 10, 1992.
Later still, he recounts an internal debate about his own song in Sunday's big benefit concert tribute that he organized: Will audience members will be thrown off if he wears grey pants instead of black ones like Jackson wore in the video for "The Way You Make Me Feel"?
"I'm standing there in the store holding the grey ones but thinking, 'Everyone's going to be going, "No, no, no. He wore black pants in the video." ' "
Would most of us have any clue? But Bergen's concern erases any questions about his sincerity in putting together "Las Vegas Celebrates the Music of Michael Jackson." The afternoon production benefits local school music programs through the Public Education Foundation.
Bergen, with local journalist Steve Friess as co-producer, recruited cast members from "Jersey Boys," "The Lion King," "Peepshow," "Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular" and other productions. Terry Fator, Holly Madison and Australian vocal group Human Nature lend marquee value as guest stars. Paterson is even involved, hosting a post-show screening of the Jackson film "Moonwalker" at 8 p.m. Saturday.
The event has grown from the 90-seat cabaret at the Liberace Museum to the 2,500-capacity concert hall at the Palms, with all production costs covered by Palms operator George Maloof. Not bad for a 23-year-old actor with no experience in promoting events, and no calling card but to say, "Hi, I'm Erich Bergen from 'Jersey Boys' and I have this idea."
"And believe it or not," he adds, "people listened."
The concert on Jackson's birthday is "this town's way of paying tribute to Michael," Bergen says. "The memorials are already done. This is a way of saying thank you to Michael's contribution to the arts. If we can concentrate for at least two hours on the art that he did, I think we'll be better off."
It's hard to separate one of Jackson's songs from his own way of performing them. The show will veer from literal to wildly interpretive, from Jackson impersonator E. Casanova to performances of deep album cuts and hits "we are taking apart completely" with new arrangements.
Bergen knows them all, which might be unusual because at age 23, he has "lived through the second half of Michael's career. I got all the insanity."
He grew up in the heart of Manhattan with both parents working in the arts. "I was such an ADD (attention deficit disorder) child. I was never diagnosed with it, but I had so many problems focusing, my mother and father did not know what to do with me at all. The only way my mother could get me to pay attention and quiet down was to either dance in front of me or put on MTV."
He was old enough, just barely, that MTV still played music videos. And many of them still featured Michael Jackson, though it was circa 1990 and well past the "Thriller" craze. He thinks he was still only 4 years old when his mom started making costumes and taking him to the "make your own music video" booth at Macy's.
When the lad finished one such effort, he walked out of the green-screen booth to find a small crowd of spectators applauding.
Bergen was destined for show business: "I'd cut school and go see a matinee of a Broadway show." But alas, he was one in his circle of friends who didn't get into LaGuardia High School, made famous in "Fame."
"I think partially it was not getting in that kicked my butt a little bit," he says, motivating him to a career that included the Gaudio role in "Jersey Boys," first on a national tour and then at the Palazzo.
But even after years of playing another pop music figure, Bergen's Jackson fandom never wavered. When he found out he was coming to Las Vegas with "Jersey Boys," Bergen thought his idol might someday be in the audience.
Instead, the actor was looking over a fresh Amazon.com shipment of memorial books and CDs the day he heard sirens on the way to search the nearby Las Vegas home of Jackson's doctor.
"That was the first moment I felt real sadness," he says. "How did I miss Michael? How was I able to put on this big celebration involving his family, yet somehow I missed the man who all I ever wanted to do was shake his hand?"
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.