Of course, it takes two to tango. Audiences willingly go along for the ride, complicit in the charade but willing to suspend disbelief, if ever so briefly, to relive the music of an era that’s slipped by.
“That’s my job as the producer, to give people that fantasy for a short period of time — whether it is a look, an iconic move, the vocals — where they go ‘Wow,’” Brown said.
He’s done Elvis shows. He’s done Johnny Cash shows. But nothing quite compares to the complexity of putting on his Michael Jackson show. A “Man in the Mirror: A Tribute to the King of Pop” is coming to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino this Saturday, April 30.
“There is so much more to do doing this than a guy with some musicians who goes out there and does all the Michael Jackson moves,” Brown said.
The dance moves, nonetheless, are a critical ingredient.
During his rise to musical stardom in the early 1980s, Michael Jackson’s signature moves traveled at lightning speed through pop culture. An innovator and pioneer of music videos, Jackson set a high bar in the exploding medium.
“So many of his songs were iconic dance video songs. Everybody knows the costuming for “Smooth Criminal” and they know the moves, so if you put a guy out on stage just singing the lyrics, it doesn’t represent what Michael Jackson was doing,” Brown said.
Before tackling the choreography and staging, however, the first hurdle in creating the show was settling on a song list.
“The audience would feel gypped if they didn’t hear “Beat It,” or if we didn’t do the iconic “Billy Jean” or “Thriller.” In between those, we have the liberty of taking songs that are still big hits but not mega hits and sprinkling those in,” Brown said.
Still, Michael Jackson had so many big hits, spanning so many years, coming to terms with a play list seemed impossible at times.
“The main problem is what do we cut — not what do we put in,” Brown said. “When you are dealing with someone like Michael Jackson it is more difficult to decide what songs not to pick. Unfortunately, we aren’t able to do all the songs fans recognize as their favorites in a 90-minute show.”
While the show centers on Jackson’s 1980s era, it spans three decades of his music. But don’t expect a chronological romp through Jackson’s musical career.
“We create a flow in the show that keeps people entertained and that creates a rollercoaster of emotions,” Jackson said. “We’ll do one of his mega hits in the middle of his career, to one in the ‘90s where fans go ‘Oh my gosh I completely forgot about this song.’”
That said, there’s no song in the line-up that will leave people scratching their heads. In that sense, there’s really only a handful of artists worthy of a tribute show.
“No offense to other artists, but if I were to do a Carrie Underwood show, unless you’re a die-hard Carrie Underwood fan, you are going to recognize three or four songs, and after that you’re going ‘I’ve never heard of that song… I’ve never heard of that song either,’” said Brown, the president of Kurt Brown productions. “That is the difference between super stardom.”
There’s another critical ingredient in a quality tribute show. The music is a conduit for time travel, transporting audiences back to an era of their lives like nothing else can.
“I won’t spill the beans, but to me, it would be somewhat of a let down if we went back and did the Jackson 5 and there wasn’t some type of visual that makes people go ‘Oh my god the ‘70s are back,’” Brown said. “If you are looking for those ‘80s, you are going to get it. Everybody will have a connection through this show to some time in their life.”
Want to go?
• What: “Man in the Mirror: A tribute to the King of Pop” will celebrate the life work of Michael Jackson in an elaborately produced tribute show, taking the audience through his greatest hits over three decades.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 30
• Where: Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort
• Who: Produced by Vegas-based Kurt Brown Productions and choreographed by Director Melani Michaud
• For tickets, go to ticketmaster.com or call 800.745.3000. Tickets range from $13 to $25.