Published Friday, Aug. 28, 2009 | 6:46 p.m.
Updated Friday, Aug. 28, 2009 | 10:59 p.m.
Even vaunted director Kenny Ortega could not have choreographed a more compelling spectacle. Set for 3 p.m. Saturday at The Pearl Concert Theater in the Palms is a tribute to Michael Jackson, a benefit show marking what would have been the King of Pop’s 51st birthday had he not died on June 25 of what the Los Angeles County coroner announced today was acute intoxication from the anesthetic propofol and other sedatives.
In the face of that grave disclosure, and as a series of Vegas-connected developments in the Jackson investigation has surfaced since his death was announced, a variety show has been organized to benefit arts and music programs for Vegas Valley kids through the Clark County Public Education Foundation.
Titled “Las Vegas Celebrates the Music of Michael Jackson,” the event is being produced by “Jersey Boys” cast member (and Liberace Museum Composers Showcase regular) Erich Bergen and Las Vegas freelance journalist Steve Friess. Stars lined up to take part in what is to be a series of numbers set to Jackson’s lively classics include Holly Madison, Terry Fator, Clint Holmes, members of “Sirens of T.I.,” Motown revue Human Nature from Imperial Palace, a cappella group Mosaic, Monte Carlo headliners Zowie Bowie, L.V. Hilton Shimmer Cabaret headliners Earl Turner and Lani Misalucha, and a couple of local youth ensembles: the Green Valley String Quartet and the Las Vegas Mass Choir. Production shows represented will be “Jersey Boys,” “Peepshow,” “The Lion King,” “Phantom -- the Las Vegas Spectacular” and “Zumanity.”
The event brings to mind the post-9/11 USO variety show staged in November 2001, which drew most of the city’s biggest stars to Mandalay Bay Events Center. Other annual events draw powerhouse all-star lineups, like Golden Rainbow’s “Ribbon of Life,” but for one-out productions, the Jackson tribute is likely the most ambitious charity show in Vegas since that 2001 USO production.
But what happens inside The Pearl is just one scene in a larger spectacle. The Jackson story has enveloped Las Vegas, primarily in the person of L.V. physician Dr. Conrad Murray, who was with Jackson when he died in an incident the L.A. coroner has ruled a homicide. Police say they are targeting Dr. Murray in what has become a manslaughter investigation. And, with that development as a backdrop, Jackson family patriarch Joe Jackson and daughter LaToya will be at the show tomorrow (though not onstage, Friess says). The two Jacksons are scheduled to accept a commemorative Celebrity Star at Brenden Theatres at the Palms after the performance and before a special screening of “Moonwalker,” the 1988 film starring Michael Jackson, at Brenden Theatres.
The star event is to be a lengthy dedication ceremony emceed by none other than Robin Leach (URL has been covering Jackson’s case extensively on Vegas Deluxe) and includes appearances by Brenden Theatres President Johnny Brenden and Palms owner George Maloof. Bergen was originally listed on the Brenden Theatres official Web site as one of those presenting the star, but he does have a show tomorrow night and can’t miss that. Friess, too, was listed as a person making an introduction, but he’s merely attending that event. He will, however, host a post-film audience Q&A with “Moonwalker” co-star Kelly Parker in the theater.
Friess finds himself performing something of a moonwalk between the Jackson death investigation and the Palms benefit. His role in covering the Vegas angle of the Jackson story has coincided with his involvement in organizing a charity show that is essentially authorized by the Jackson family. Friess, who writes regularly for Las Vegas Weekly (a Greenspun Media Group publication) among his freelance gigs, allows that it has been an interesting summer ever since the details of Jackson’s death spilled out to include Las Vegas.
“There’s no doubt it’s weird for me,” Friess said today. “When this was conceived, it was just a couple of days after his death. Nobody believed it would be a homicide at that point, that it would be anything this controversial connected to Las Vegas. … Journalists don’t have to divorce themselves from their communities.” (Friess plans to write of his shifting between journalist and benefit producer in next week’s L.V. Weekly.)
Soon after Jackson’s death, Friess was approached by Bergen, a friend who is a lifelong Jackson fan, to assist in organizing the benefit show. Bergen has invoked an audio clip of himself at age 4 singing “Man in the Mirror” during his performances at the Liberace Museum and has written a piece for the Sun relating Jackson’s influence on his career. It was Bergen who first thought to turn Jackson’s untimely death into a means of raising money for local arts programs, and both organizers have said that the show is to honor the creative work, not the mercurial and ultimately tragic lifestyle, of Jackson.
At this writing, about $90,000 in advance ticket sales have been raised, Friess said. The goal is $100,000. (Tickets at $79, $104 and $129 are still available at the Palms box office or through Ticketmaster; click here for the event's official Web site). Friess says that all money taken in after production costs will be donated to the Public Education Foundation to fill such needs as instruments, maintenance of instruments, sheet music, supplies and specialized tutoring (the books will be opened to anyone who wants to review how the money was allotted, he said, adding that the Jacksons did not ask for fees to appear at the show or dedication ceremony).
The Clark County School District’s fine arts programs suffered a 23 percent cut this school year, meaning such common music and arts extracurricular activities as the annual Halftime Show Review at Sam Boyd Stadium has been cut (the show had been a showcase for high school marching bands for 52 years). Rick McEnaney, CCSD's coordinator of secondary fine arts programs, says the district is actually faring better than those in other regions across the country, many of which have been lopped totally. When asked if the $100,000 was an attainable goal, he said, “If we raise half that, I’ll dance on a table.”
That could be arranged. Maybe as the encore.