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April 18, 2014

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Jackie, Jermaine, Tito and Marlon still groove with best in ‘Rocktellz & Cocktails’

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Erik Kabik / Retna/ErikKabik.com

The grand opening night of The Jacksons in “Rocktellz & Cocktails” on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Planet Hollywood.

Grand Opening Night of The Jacksons

The grand opening night of The Jacksons in Launch slideshow »
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The grand opening night of The Jacksons in "Rocktellz & Cocktails" on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Planet Hollywood.

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The grand opening night of The Jacksons in "Rocktellz & Cocktails" on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Planet Hollywood.

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The grand opening night of The Jacksons in "Rocktellz & Cocktails" on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Planet Hollywood.

Click to enlarge photo

The grand opening night of The Jacksons in "Rocktellz & Cocktails" on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Planet Hollywood.

Sometimes you just have to applaud The Jacksons. Not for all the singing and the dancing or all the great hits, the music videos, the cartoon, the lunchboxes and the cereal boxes a generation of us remember as kids.

No, we deeply appreciate the moments when the guys make it real, when they deal with one another as actual brothers. If you are a brother, you recognize these instances of instinctive support, when one sibling says to another, “Dude, your barn door’s open.” Or, “Hey, bro, misfire on button No. 3.”

There were a few of those Saturday night when the Jackson 4 of Jackie, Jermaine, Tito and Marlon opened their two-month, 40-show run in “Rocktellz and Cocktails” at Planet Hollywood. No matter how big a star you are, or how much rehearsal hours you do or don’t put in, there are going to be some kinks in the process in the early stages of a production.

This has been the case for The Jacksons. Midway through Saturday night’s two-hour performance, Marlon was winding through a somewhat interesting story about how the brothers met Queen Elizabeth II in London ages ago. Maybe when they were teenagers. Marlon started to tell a story about how the keyboardist in the band said something to the Queen mum that defied protocol and, likely, good taste.

Maybe it led to some otherwise unreported international incident. Whatever, Jermaine, cut off his brother with, “Marlon, no. Not that one.” Apparently the exchange was a little too blue for this crowd.

“Oh,” Marlon said. “OK, OK.”

Soon after, as Marlon — onstage the most verbose of the brothers — walked across the stage while buried in another anecdote, his right pant leg became stuck to his sock. Like what happens when you forget to use a Bounce sheet.

Marlon blithely kept up with the tale as most audience members stared at the sock-pant situation. Finally, Jackie stood from his director’s chair and pulled the pants right again, to great laughter and applause. And, still later, Marlon had cross-buttoned his glittery white stage shirt, everything lined up out of order, until Jackie once more stopped him (during a medley of hits including “I’ll Be There” and “ABC”) and re-buttoned everything.

You had to smile. The point is not that the show was filled with Jackson-esque costume mishaps (and what is it with this family and wardrobe malfunctions, anyway?). Rather, these were the instances that brought The Jacksons, that famed family and ever-iconic brand, to a level understood by everyone. These moments can’t have been scripted, either. I can’t think of any wardrobe manager who can order static cling on demand.

As the show powers on, we are reminded that we like these Jacksons. Regardless of what is happening around the family at any given time (oddly, there is no interview of father Joe Jackson whatsoever in the video highlights), they are clearly having a good time onstage.

Jermaine has evidently been the brother hardest to convince of participating in this stretch of shows (and beforehand said he was finally swayed by the idea of playing on the Strip again), but even he smiled his way through the show and often laughed toward the other three at his right. He played the bass, a sparkly instrument, on occasion. Tito handled guitar, but a thundering six-piece band enforced the bulk of the music.

For those of us perplexed by the concept of tracked music in major productions on that very stage, it was great to Cee — er, see — musicians playing real music.

Financial and artistic investment is evident in everything. The show’s set was designed by crafty Brit Andy Walmsley (who is having quite a successful run here in VegasVille, as reflected by the happy posts on his Facebook page), with the famous “Jacksons” logo at the back and searing, colored lights flashing over the performers. The guys looked great in their matching, silver-jacketed suits and, later, in paisley designed coats in primary colors.

The guys can still move, too. Twice Marlon dropped to his knees and hopped up. They spin in unison, mostly, as some of the choreography still needs ratcheting. But, dang, these are The Jacksons, and they still groove with the best. It was fun to watch the gentlemen from Human Nature, seated near the front, mimicking The Jacksons’ moves from the stage.

All that said, the show is not fully stocked with hits of the Jackson 5. They borrowed freely from Michael’s rich catalogue, with “Rock With You,” “Blame It On the Boogie” and a show-stopping “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.”

These songs work because, well, they are terrific dance numbers from hit albums. The brothers execute them with great energy, and the high compliment of classic Jackson 5 dancing is impressive. Sweat flies from these guys as they spin, and you cannot fake that type of work.

What is lacking in this autobiographical show is the sort of Q+A employed by Meat Loaf, who is happy to parry with the audience. Probably, the brothers are not interested in such questions as, “Why isn’t your dad in any of these videos?”

It’s a quibble, though. The show makes you want to stand up and move with some familiar figures, almost close enough to touch. Before the performance, along the red carpet, I grabbed at Marlon’s sleeve and asked, “Are you playing ‘Going Back to Indiana?’” I remember cutting that .45 off the back of a box of Honeycomb cereal and playing it over and over until my family about retched at hearing the word “Indiana.”

“Ah, I’m sorry, you’re outta luck,” Marlon said.

This needs to be addressed. Maybe we’ll take it up with Jackie.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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