In Entertainment, Magazine, Music, News

By Stacey Gualandi

“We love you, Michael!”

Before he even belted out the first “Ma-ma-se, ma-ma-sa, ma-ma-ko- ssa,” the star of “MJ Live” had the audience in the palm of his, well, sequined glove.

“I love you more!”

The star is, of course, “Michael Jackson,” and “MJ Live” at Sahara Las Vegas is the “#1 Michael Jack- son Tribute Concert in the World.”

Since its debut in 2012 at the Strat, and more recently at the Tropi- cana, this hour-plus spectacular continues to reimagine more than 20 of the King of Pop’s greatest hits — including “Bad,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” — for fans who don’t stop ’til they get enough.

With the constant costume changes, moonwalks, spins and toe stands in the 950-seat theater, it makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time. And like the Gloved One himself, this Michael Jackson always leans into his landing — or should I say antigravity tilt?

“I just want them to lose themselves for that 70 minutes,” legendary producer Dick Feeney said.

Feeney is no stranger to Las Vegas shows, with a string of successful long-running shows to his credit, including “The Rat Pack Is Back” at Tuscany Suites & Casino, “Viva Las Vegas” at the former Sands and “An Evening at Las Cage” back in 1985. He says creating “MJ Live” was as simple as do re mi, ABC, 1, 2, 3.

“I looked up Elvis’s Facebook page, and he had 8 million followers; then I looked up Michael’s, and he had 60 million,” Feeney said.

“I said, ‘There might be something here. Ha!’ ” Feeney said for “MJ Live” to become a hit, it not only had Jack- son’s wide demographic base, but also impersonators willing to work harder than the star they are impersonating.

“When that impersonator comes out, they have about 30 seconds to sell themselves as that person,” Feeney emphasized. “As I tell the entertainers, they actually have to be an even better entertainer than the star because the star can do anything; they can walk out and burp, and their fans will all go crazy.”

Fortunately, there are two ded- icated doppelgängers bringing Jackson to life: Jalles Franca and Santana Jackson, who was center stage on my first visit. For Santana Jackson (no relation), following in his hero’s footsteps was a dream come true.

“I moved here from Florida 10 years ago with nothing more than a dream and a dollar,” Jackson said. “I wanted to carry on Michael’s legacy and somehow honor this larger-than-life icon I have respected and revered all my life. ‘MJ Live’ and Dick Feeney have graciously allowed me that honor.”

This is also an immersive experi- ence. Jackson led the audience in a repeat-after-me of his signature sounds like “Hee Hee” and “Oww Oww,” and even allowed one fan to grab the mic (he referred to her as Janet, but it wasn’t nasty!). Jack- son ended the show by running through the crowd and out the theater to a photo op outside while the crowd kept right on singing.

“I love standing there at the end of the show and watching the people sing along and dance their way out of the theater,” Feeney said.

With the Tropicana now closed permanently, “MJ Live” was almost homeless, but Feeney didn’t hes- itate to moonwalk it up the Strip to its new temporary home at the Sahara Hotel and Casino.

“When you’ve got a show with a track record like ours and the bodies that we bring into a casino — and it’s usually pretty positive — you gotta find another place,” Feeney said.

Right now, shows are scheduled nightly through July, but Feeney said not to fear, as there is good news on the horizon.

“We’re definitely going to extend there, and we’re in some discus- sions with them about something more permanent, too.”

That means you’ll have plenty of time to shake your body down to the ground and experience a Michael Jackson retrospective at its best. I’ll be there. You just can’t beat it.

“MJ Live” is performed nightly at Sahara Theatre at 7:30. 2535 S. Las Vegas Blvd. (702) 761-7000;

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