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Legends - Remember the Time


(Michael Jackson with Legends in Concert’s former Director of Marketing, Mary Anne Beaman)

Las Vegas, Nevada

November 2, 2009

The thumping beats of “Billie Jean” started up. On the dark stage, a spotlight illuminated the performer wearing a black hat and a single glove. The crowd erupted with loud cheers and applause.

But it wasn’t Michael Jackson -- at least not the real one. Still, it was about as close as it gets.

William Bostick had been perfecting his Michael Jackson tribute for more than a quarter of a century and was an integral part of “Legends in Concert” for many years. He was so good, in fact, that the superstar had befriended Bostick after one of his tribute shows and offered him some tips.

Though William had always put on a great show, that October night in 1998 was different. He was moonwalking his heart out on the stage at Las Vegas’ Imperial Palace – for the real Michael Jackson in the audience.

Sue Cirone, then a captain at the casino, recalls hearing from a coworker that morning “that Michael Jackson might be coming to the ‘Legends’ show that night. And he said that I might want to bring my daughter to meet him. She was 9 years old and a huge fan. She was really excited, and nervous, too. Everyone was.”

“No one was sure that Michael was going to show up, but it was a real possibility,” remembers Jillian Hrushowy, a production manager for ‘Legends’ for the past 15 years. “The band was sitting in their places, getting ready for the 7:30 show, and a stagehand told us, ‘Yes, it’s true, he’s here.’ Well, right then you could absolutely feel the electricity in the room.”

Jackson, wearing a signature black hat and dark sunglasses, had quietly slipped into booth 206 after the lights went down, and was completely surrounded by his entourage. “I have never seen that much undercover security here, ever,” says Sue, who’s worked at the Imperial Palace for 29 years.

Sue has witnessed the real Kenny Rogers sing at a “Legends” show (“Nobody in the audience knew it was the real Kenny!” she says, laughing). Other high-profile celebrities like Shania Twain and the Righteous Brothers have dropped by to see themselves portrayed on stage. But nobody matched the star wattage of Michael Jackson. “He was certainly the most celebrated personality that we’ve ever had come to the show,” says Jillian.

And even though the audience didn’t have a clue that the Gloved One was in the same room -– “Only the people who worked at the I.P. and at ‘Legends’ knew that he was there,” says Sue – they sensed that there was something different about this performance.

“There was definitely a buzz in the room,” Sue recalls.

 Jillian agrees. “The band – everyone in the show – worked their butts off that night. The whole place was on fire. It was amazing!”

 Michael Jackson stayed to watch his impersonator sing, twirl and of course, moonwalk, through five songs: “Remember the Time,” “Thriller,” “Jam,” “Heal the World” and “Billie Jean.”
    
“For ‘Heal the World,’ there was a scrim with a globe projected on it,” remembers Zach Thalheimer, a technician for “Legends” who had a bird’s-eye view of the show. “I remember looking out and seeing Michael pointing up at it and him saying, ‘That’s cool.’”    

To memorialize that eventful night, Sue has a picture of her daughter and her friends with Jackson. Thalheimer didn’t get a photograph, but he did come down from his perch high above the stage to mingle with excited fans. “I definitely got a bit giddy,” he says. “And I just thought it was really special that he would take the time to come see William.”
    
In fact, the superstar later met up with the performer and congratulated him on a great performance. “William told me that Jackson was very proud and very pleased,” says Jillian.

But when she thinks back to that fateful night, Jillian does wish she could change one thing. As production manager, it was she who had filled out a comp slip with Jackson’s name on it. “I was going through some stuff a while ago and saw that slip that I’d saved,” she says. “I thought, ‘What will I ever want this for?’ Boy, do I regret throwing it away.”

After the passing of Michael Jackson on June 25, the performer portraying the King of Pop in “Legends” became even more important. Currently that honor belongs to Damian Brantley, a 10-year veteran of the tribute artist genre, who introduced Foxwoods’ audiences to the tribute show this summer at the casino property in Connecticut.
     
Damian, who is now headlining “Legends,” still gets very emotional recalling that June day. “We happened to be rehearsing my set in the Fox Theater and were in the middle of ‘Billie Jean.’ One of the techs came by and told us that Michael was gone. It seemed so out of left field.”
     
But as they say, the show must go on. “I’m here to help audiences remember Michael and highlight the memories that they hold dearest,” Damian says. “That’s my job, to recreate the highlights. I’m just playing my very small role in helping his legacy live on.”
     
And most important, he notes, is honoring Michael’s memory in a respectful way. “With his passing, there are people coming out of the woodwork calling themselves tribute artists, when in fact, they are turning it into a parody,” Damian laments. “At ‘Legends,’ we have handled the situation delicately; we have been doing this a long time and I do my utmost to do a respectable rendition of the man.”
     
“Legends in Concert” with Damian Brantley as Michael Jackson is currently running at Harrah’s Las Vegas.  For Tickets and show information visit HalfPriceShows.com - Best Las Vegas Shows largest discounts -. 

 Jennifer Ceaser is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York, whose work can be seen in a variety of newspapers and magazines including The New York Post, Gotham Magazine (New York), L.A. Confidential and Social Affairs (Miami). Her favorite Michael Jackson song is Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'.

 

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