A ‘Thriller’ comes to Albany on Sunday

A compendium of Jackson’s music and dance moves
Jalles Franca as Michael Jackson and a photo from a past "MJ Live" concert.
Jalles Franca as Michael Jackson and a photo from a past "MJ Live" concert.

The man in Jalles Franca’s mirror looks a lot like Michael Jackson.

And that’s just fine by Franca.

Over the years, he’s won several contests for his impressions of the pop king. It’s also helped him land a starring role in MJ Live, a Jackson tribute show that’s coming to the Times Union Center on Sunday.

The show is a compendium of Jackson’s music and dance moves, with a live band and dancers.

Everything from “Thriller” to “Billie Jean,” to MJ’s Jackson 5 songs are covered throughout the show.

“When people see me, I want them to be confused,” Franca said. He hopes people will believe, even just for a few hours, that Michael Jackson is back.

“It’s all about keeping Michael Jackson’s legacy alive,” Franca said.

It’s a mission that began unsteadily at first.

He moved to the U.S. from Brazil at the age of 16 and by the age of 21 he was able to start a professional dance/performance residency at Studio 54 at the MGM Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where he learned as many Michael Jackson moves as he could. Unfortunately, with the economic crisis of 2008, he was laid off.

The following year, as he was working as many jobs as he could find, he entered a Michael Jackson impersonator contest in Las Vegas, which took place just a few months after Jackson’s death. Franca, who was a lifetime fan of the artist, entered the contest, hopeful but unsure he could win.

But he walked away with the grand prize (several thousand dollars) and a job.

The manager of the club saw how Franca danced and acted like Jackson and offered him a job as an impersonator and entertainer. Franca began to build up a reputation as one of the best impersonators around and it eventually landed him the role in MJ Live, which is lead by producer Dick Feeney and choreographer Missy Cochran. The show, which has been running in Las Vegas for the past five years, never has a dark day. So Franca switches off with fellow Michael Jackson impersonator Santana Jackson on his off days.

MJ Live has sold out in most of the cities they tour and it seems to be growing in popularity.

It helps that Franca takes pride in being true to the Jackson role.

“Whatever Michael had, I’ve gotta have it,” Franca said.

On stage, that means he changes his costume for each song on the setlist. Since there are usually 19 songs, that means 19 costume changes during the course of every performance.

“I [think] I drive my directors crazy,” Franca jokes. Once, he had a studded leather belt custom made for the show because he couldn’t find anything else like it.

“I spend a lot of time and money making it [genuine],” Franco said.

Because there’s not enough time to perform Jackson’s entire discography — or the show would last a week, Franca said — they try to stick with the favorites and build around those.

“You’ve got to start the show with a bang,” Franca said.

That usually means “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” from Jackon’s “Thriller,” album. From there the show moves into “Billie Jean,” “Man in the Mirror,” “Dangerous,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Thriller,” “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” and others. The show also includes a tribute to Jackson’s years in Jackson 5.

Although he usually performs sold-out stadiums and has built up a strong reputation, Franca said it all comes back to Michael Jackson.

“None of this is my work … and I’m alright with that. It’s all because of him,” Franca said.

‘MJ Live’

WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Sun. 21
WHERE: Times Union Center
TICKETS: $25-$55

Categories: Entertainment

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