He wants to rock with you: Florida Orchestra finds voice of Michael Jackson for tribute show
Over the years, the Florida Orchestra has convened with their rock counterparts to channel the spirit of Freddie Mercury, John Lennon and even a few generations of Bond, James Bond. But this Friday brings the thrill of bowing to the king of pop: Michael Jackson.
No, not the baby-dangling or chimpanzee-befriending versions of M.J. after he became a celebrity trainwreck. Those cartoonish stories are best left buried in the past. Instead remember when Michael first bewitched you on the stage of American Bandstand or on the TV screen when you tuned to MTV. Billie Jean. Thriller. Human Nature. Rock With You. It has to be quite the undertaking to resurrect the defining soundtrack and voice of a generation.
Guest conductor and arranger Brent Havens will lead the orchestra that night for a tribute show to honor the music and moves of the late singer and icon. It's part of the orchestra's rock concert series, which in the past has honored legends such as Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Beatles.
The key, naturally, to the concerts usually is the guest vocalist and this show brings a familiar face: James Delisco, the winner of E! Network's reality TV series The Entertainer. And if you're worried that the 40-year-old Los Angeles resident isn't up to the task, don't be, my P.Y.T.s. He's only been training to do the Moon Walk since before he could shave.
"When I was 9 years old in the fourth grade I sang Ben by the young Michael Jackson in a talent show," Delisco said. "When I sang people in the audiences were crying and I thought it was cool. But it wasn't really until I got to see MJ live in concert that really became a student of Michael, emulating his moves and watching videos everyday."
Long after the talent show circuit, Delisco racked up professional work in the casts of Broadway shows like Smokey Joe’s Café, Aida and Ragtime. But he keeps returning to M.J., having now performed "The Music of Michael Jackson” with the Baltimore Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, Fort Worth Symphony among others.
He shared his memories of Michael in an e-mail with the Times. Here are some highlights from the interview.
Your show spans four decades of Michael's hits, from the early days of performing with his brothers to all his record-shattering solo work in the '80s and beyond. What era of MJ are you particularly drawn to?
"I really like the Thriller/Bad era but ... the Jackson Five material always gets so much good response. I love when people come to me and say things like, 'You took me back to a place where I met my first boyfriend or girlfriend.' It's a personal connection I think we all have, myself included, to Michael and his music..."
Working with an orchestra, which tunes give you and fans the biggest goosebumps with that added oomph?
"The whole experience is an incredible experience to hear all Michael's music with a incredible orchestra performing it. However I would see the ones to me that stand out are: She's Out of My Life, The Earth Song, Man in the Mirror, Ben, and the list goes on.
Are there any of M.J's signature moves that were particularly challenging to master?
"It's constant learning because when I started doing this show I had to relearn a lot of old moves and some new ones because I kind of fell off after Dangerous. I began to study and see many more moves that he developed over his latter years. With that being said, the signature lean in smooth criminal would be the toughest move because it's kind of impossible to do -- it defies gravity! I am on my way though."
I haven't seen the setlist for Friday's performance. Will there be any surprises? Any teary moments?
"Lots of surprises, lots of fun. I don't want to spoil the surprise."
IF YOU GO: The Music of Michael Jackson. The Florida Orchestra with Brent Havens, conductor, and Jame Delisco, vocalist. Friday, 8 p.m. Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg. $35, $55 and $75.