Saturday, May 26, 2018
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PEACH WEEKENDER | THEATER

Michael Jackson tribute comes to Van Wert

MJ Live, the Michael Jackson tribute concert, with its Las Vegas style and its star, Jalles Franca, is coming to northwest Ohio’s Niswonger Performing Arts Center in Van Wert on Saturday night.

Franca left his home in Brazil and came to Vegas when he was 16 with dreams of being a professional dancer. The city has been his home since 1998. He now stars as Michael Jackson in MJ Live at the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, as well as in tours across the United States and internationally, including Dubai twice.

He has portrayed Michael Jackson professionally since 2008. Over the last eight years he has been featured in several tribute shows, developing his own as “MJ The Legend.” He also is the official MJ tribute artist for “Thriller Villa,” Michael Jackson’s preserved Las Vegas mansion that was the star’s home during his final years.  

Franca is emphatic about the difference between an impersonator and a tribute artist. Impersonators dress up like the celebrity, and that’s all. Tribute artists not only dress like the celebrity but also sing live, no lip syncing, using their own voices and play the instruments live, themselves. “When you mix singing with dancing and the mannerisms, and the makeup and costumes, it’s a lot.”

The Van Wert MJ Live performance will include a live band with a drummer and keyboard and guitar artists, and eight backup dancers.

“We do 19 Michael Jackson songs,” Franca said, and “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” “Man in the Mirror,” “Human Nature,” and the “entire Jackson Five medley are always going to be there.” Franca’s favorite number, which is also the crowd’s favorite, is the moonwalk during “Billie Jean.” “That is the iconic Michael Jackson thing,” he said.

Michael Jackson became Franca’s hero when he was a little boy in Brazil, about 9 years old, he said. 

“I just wanted to be like him” and started learning from watching Jackson on TV and studying cassettes of Jackson’s albums Bad and Dangerous. He also watched videos of Jackson’s dance moves but couldn’t duplicate them, so his mother gave him some good advice: “Keep practicing.” 

“Michael Jackson’s shoes are some hard shoes to fill,” he said.

“Everything that I have in my life, my business, my shows, everything, is because of Michael Jackson. People are not coming to see Jalles, they’re coming to see Michael Jackson and get a glimpse of what it [would have been] like to see him. When you hear audiences screaming ‘MJ’ it makes you feel so good,” he said. They’re not cheering for Jalles, they’re cheering because Jalles is playing Michael Jackson, and he’s “a thousand percent OK with that,” he said. “I love paying tribute to Michael Jackson.”

Franca met Jackson twice. The first time was when he was working in a store in the Venetian Hotel and Casino. 

“We were told Michael was coming in and we shouldn’t look at him, and don’t ask for anything. To make a long story short, I not only looked at him but tried to talk to him. He said hello and shook my hand, and we talked a little bit. He left, and that day I lost my job.” (The employees were warned that would happen.)

“Friends asked if it was worth it, and I said, ‘Of course it was.’” 

The second time he met the music icon was when Franca was performing as a dancer and percussionist at Studio 54 in Las Vegas and Jackson came in. 

“I was able to talk to him,” he said, recalling that Jackson told him that no matter how far you go in life, no matter who you meet, treat everyone with respect, remain humble because life is like a roller coaster, some days you’re up, some days you’re down. And try not to burn any bridges. 

“I was listening to him telling me these things, looking right at me, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow,’” Franca said.

MJ Live will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center of Northwest Ohio, 10700 State Rt. 118 South, Van Wert. Tickets, $25, $35, and $45, are from npacvw.org and the box office at 419-238-6722, open from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Wine & Words

Glacity Theatre Collective joins Perrysburg’s Zinful Tasting Boutique for Wine and Words at 7 p.m. Friday.

The evening will feature a staged reading of Lauren Gunderson’s comedy The Revolutionists. Set during the French Revolution, the play centers on four real women, playwright Olympe de Gouges, assassin Charlotte Corday, former queen Marie Antoinette, and Haitian rebel Marianne Angelle who battle against what’s going on in 1793 Paris and try to change the world.

Gunderson also is the author of Silent Sky, recently presented at Studio A at the Valentine Theatre, telling the story of Henrietta Leavitt, a 19th century astronomer whose work led to major discoveries despite limits placed on her because she was a woman, and Bauer, a play about the life and difficult times of Rudolf Bauer, a renowned abstract artist of the 1930s. 

Friday’s performance, directed by Jeffrey J. Albright and featuring Jennifer Nagy Lake, Reina Laufer, Victoria Zajac, and Cindy Bilby, will be in the meeting room of Zinful, 218 Louisiana Ave., Perrysburg. Tickets are $25 and available at the door only.

Contact Sue Brickey at: sbrickey@theblade.com.

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