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‘Thriller 40’ release gives ‘MJ One’ a reason to party

Updated August 30, 2022 - 9:34 am

Anniversaries come and go, but the dedication of Cirque du Soleil artists remains unshakable.

Sunday afternoon was the latest instance of Cirque performers rising to an occasion. The cast of “Michael Jackson One” performed a new number to “The Girl is Mine,” off “Thriller.” The reasons for the scene were multifold. Cirque and Michael Jackson Estate sought to to mark the album’s 40th anniversary, the release of the “Thriller 40” double-album, Jackson’s 64th birthday, and entertain a couple hundred VIPs at the “MJ One” theater.

A couple dozen artists, all dancing in tight choreography, delivered a beautiful performance. It was so good, we had to ask when — not if — it would be added to the show.

It won’t be. The cast put this together in just 15-18 hours of rehearsal. But it is certainly polished enough to be added to the stage show, tonight.

The Jackson-related news of the day was that the “Thriller 40” anniversary release is now available for pre-order at michaeljackson.lnk.to/Thriller40th. It is not possible to overstate the power of that album, released Nov. 30, 1982. “Thriller” has sold more than 100 million copies and has spent more than 500 weeks on the Billboard album charts (and I recall buying it, day of release, after hearing that Eddie Van Halen was on it).

Greg Phillinganes, who worked with Jackson on the album, was a guest at Sunday’s event in the theater. During a Q&A session from the stage, he said he drove to the event from L.A. with his wife and two twin sons. “What do you think was playing, all four hours of that drive?” Phillinganes asked. “‘Working Day and Night, ‘Thriller.’”

Phillinganes also worked on Jackson’s “Off The Wall,” “Bad,” and “Dangerous”; and also The Jacksons’ albums “Destiny” and “Triumph.” He was music director for Cirque’s “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour,” which is how we met him. That show was the seed for “MJ One” on the Strip.

Reaching further back, he got his start when tapped by Stevie Wonder to work on “Songs In the Key of Life.” It was one month before Phillinganes’ 19th birthday. As he recalled from the stage, “I tried to go to college, and I was lousy at it. I was involved in a couple of bands around town, and the miracle occurred … I was asked to audition for Stevie Wonder.”

Phillinganes passed that audition in New York. Wonder called Phillinganes’ mother, a massive fan, to tell her he wanted to hire her son. The family then flipped out, Cirque-style.

Prince was there

Phillinganes called out to “Prince” during his time at the theater. It was to recognize Prince Jackson, Michael’s 25-year-old son, seated with the VIPs. Jackson returned to the 7 p.m. Sunday show.

VIP action

“MJ One” will open a VIP package Sept. 15, available for purchase at cirquedusoleil.com/michael-jackson-one. The new option allows fans private entrance and early access to the theater, followed by a private pre-show reception inside the VIP room. Guests can take a guided video tour, including a meet-and-greet with several cast members.

VIP seating, and a lovely parting gift with photos is also offered. The experience is available for both early and late performances.

Rich person in the house

On Saturday night, Cirque President Eric Grilly was spotted near the theater entrance with a group of dignitaries. It was a group led by businessman Ben Horowitz, co-founder with Marc Andreessen of the Silicon Valley a16z venture capital firm. Horowitz hosts the a16z Podcast. He also recently moved to Vegas.

Burlesque haunt expands

The chic nightspot 1923 Prohibition Bar is growing out to The Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes. Expect that venue to open by next spring. The original will remain open at the Shoppes at Mandalay Bay, across from the Raiders merch store and next to Minus 5 Ice Bar. That space, and 1923 Prohibition, are owned by hospitality visionary Noel Bowman.

HN closes it

Human Nature ended a swift-selling, four-show run at South Point Showroom on Sunday night. The act has effectively adjusted to current Vegas marketing trends, where similar-sized shows are going with shorter and less-frequent series to maximize demand. Andrew and Mike Tierney and Toby Allen were in great form.

The Motown set list is a reliable crowd-pleaser, and it was a very good call to sing the non-Motown, but entirely righteous Righteous Brothers’ classic “”Unchained Melody.” The video message from the legendary Smokey Robinson enhances and lends credibility to the show’s Motown theme.

The room’s crisp video display and sound system carry the multi-media effects, and the choreography… What can we say? No other Vegas act pulls from such vintage groove moves. This team has really studied the steps of the Temptations, for starters.

It helps the full entertainment experience if you have not seen HN’s original lineup over the past 13 years, with the great Phil Burton. The act’s co-founder is mentioned only a comedic moment, when he’s actually cropped from an old photo of the group (ouch, babe). And the backing band has also been whittled, from its seven members during The Venetian days to three today. That is still preferred to going with full tracks.

Today’s HN production is a lot like a visit to 50s and 60s Gold on Sirius XM. It’s still a nostalgically good time with three gents who are smart to stay with a winning formula. They’ll be back Oct. 11-13, well-suited and ready to spin.

Cool Hang Alert

Good Vibrations, the city’s pre-eminent, if not only, dedicated tribute to the Beach Boys, plays the Stirling Room at Stirling Club at 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday. It’s $29 for members, $39 for the general public. It’s “party time,” according to the flyer. I’ve seen these guys a few years back, and that is true. Go to TheStirlingClub.com for tickets, info and the surf-style fashion tips.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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