If you haven’t heard of Mosaic Theater, don’t feel bad. This little-engine-that-could has undergone more name changes than Diddy. Its current life as an alternative to David Saxe’s self-named SAXE and V Theaters at Planet Hollywood has been a surprise success for audiences and critics alike. Mosaic has hosted gems like Queens of Rock, Aussie Heat, and a brief-but-lauded run of Piano Man (rumored to be resurfacing soon).
Now the team at Mosaic Theater has launched MJ – The Evolution, their own self-created musical production. A loving chronology of revered (and sometimes reviled) superstar Michael Jackson, the full-scale tribute show is directed by prolific entertainment producer Blair Farrington of BAZ, Rio’s Show In The Sky, and Britney Spears’ jettisoned Domination residency.
Insiders tell me that MJ – The Evolution is a passion project that took seven years to realize. Unfortunately, that same passion isn’t always felt by the audience, which was at capacity on the evening that yours truly attended. Despite the high energy being given off by an exceptionally large cast, the audience reception during the first few songs was decidedly tame.
The first hint of a problem came during the opening sequence, an eye-pleasing recreation of The Jackson 5’s “ABC”. Costumes are colorful and dazzling, as is the choreography for the lookalikes. Unfortunately, the very young performer playing Michael is relegated to lip-syncing to pre-recorded original tracks. While it would be difficult for any child to convincingly recreate Michael’s vocals onstage, this still reduces the entire sequence to an elaborate karaoke session. Other numbers from The Jackson 5 set include “Ben” and “The Love You Save”.
Act 2 picks up a bit as it takes you through the beginnings of Michael’s 80’s solo career. The live band kicks into high gear for “Off The Wall”, “Don’t Stop til You Get Enough”, and “Shake Your Body to the Ground”. Filmed backdrops recreate MJ’s groundbreaking music videos utilizing the show’s own cast, a collection of talented dancers culled from several popular Vegas productions.
Famed Jackson impersonator Michael Firestone truly comes alive at the halfway point, when “Thriller” sizzles both on and off the stage. “Beat It”, “Billie Jean”, “PYT” and “Bad” get high marks for authenticity and audience response. But just like with Michael’s own career, things start to slow down again after those record-breakers.
When Jackson became more of a tabloid headliner than a music maker, albums were few and far between. Sadly, his songs no longer had the same impact, and some of them didn’t even crack the top 40. Thus, closing MJ – The Evolution with “They Don’t Really Care About Us” and “Man In The Mirror” may be historically accurate, but it’s also a bit of a downer. Instead of being elated, fans are sent into the night reminded of the controversy, lawsuits, and questionable judgment that led to Jackson’s early demise.
Keeping in mind that Evolution is just a few weeks out of the starting gate, it could still be very much a work in progress. What’s lacking is some cohesion to bring it all together..and perhaps a youthful singer to convey MJ’s formative years in a better way. The lack of any meaningful intro, dialogue, or voiceover narration is painfully obvious, making it feel as though you’ve arrived a little late.
The building blocks and talent for a great show are right there on the Mosaic Theater stage. But for now, MJ – The Evolution is not quite the thriller we were expecting.
MJ – The Evolution performs Thursday through Monday at 8:30 pm. Tickets start at $54.99 and can be purchased here. Mosaic Theater is located at 3765 S. Las Vegas Boulevard, across from Park MGM Hotel Casino.