Budget-friendly ‘MJ Live!’ passable but lacks creativity

Michael Jackson with a gut and a butt?

I’m sure impersonator Michael Firestone looks like an average dude when he’s out of costume, and you’re not comparing him to the whip-thin King of Pop. But it does beg the question: Does this “MJ Live!” tribute show at the Rio’s Crown Theater launch us down the Elvis path?

In other words, the Elvis impersonation phenomenon started with a few guys who looked and sounded a lot like Presley. But it gradually steamrolled into a kind of quasi religion, welcoming Elvi of all ages, gender, body types and ethnicities. It was as much a celebration as a profession.

It’s early to say whether Jackson tributes will evolve into that sort of thing. If we haven’t started to lower the bar, Firestone doesn’t rank up there with Damian Brantley, the Jackson tribute guy I’ve seen for years on the Strip.

Even Ice (aka Chris Gardner), was physically closer to the real Jackson when he danced on a tiny stage in the adjacent King’s Room in the low-rent “2 Kings” earlier this year.

“MJ Live!” isn’t quite as threadbare. It’s helmed by veteran producer Dick Feeney, who fills the larger stage with eight dancers. But the thing’s still sung to track, the costumes generic, the lighting stark and the choreography by Missy Cochran standard.

That is, unless you’re trying to predict what the “Thriller” creature costumes will look like. For some reason, Firestone is left to flounder alone during that one, announcing at the end, “The only way that works is if you pretend there are zombies behind me.”


As with most Elvis impersonators, Firestone finds a passable Jackson voice, only slowing down to serve up some nice singing on “She’s Out of My Life.” The rest of the time he’s busy stepping off the patented dance moves, including one extended showcase with the iconic hat and glove to an isolated break beat on “Billie Jean.”

The dancers get to have a little fun squaring off with B-boy moves, pushing each other around on “Beat It.” It’s one of the few times you are reminded Jackson’s concerts and videos turned the songs into little minimovies.

This tribute – and perhaps many more down the road – will be faced with trying to replicate the imagery of the classic videos, or finding a satisfying alternative.

Guess you can’t expect giant spiders at a bargain afternoon show, which seemed to satisfy families who miss Jackson (the ones to whom the “Kids Free” offer on the Interstate 15 billboard does not inspire a sick-humor gasp during rush hour).

Lacking any real budget, this one might have at least attempted to honor his eccentric imagination. If you don’t have money, maybe you can have some ideas, a little gonzo-YouTube creativity. Seems like he would have enjoyed that.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ or 702-383-0288.


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