“Etiam in morte, superest amor.” Translated from Latin: In death, love survives.
That’s particularly true for the legendary Michael Jackson, who died 13 years ago. To mark this, Michael Lives Forever is coming to The Wiltern on Saturday, July 2.
The show stars three MJ alumni: Choreographer Lavelle Smith, backup singer Kevin Dorsey and guitarist Jennifer Batten coming together for the first time since their tenure with The King of Pop.
After touring extensively throughout Europe and Latin America to sold-out audiences, Michael Lives Forever, led by singer/dancer and impersonator Rodrigo Teaser, is making its US debut.
“It is very, very special. It is so beyond my imagination. But, I am a bit nervous,” Teaser said.
“I will be performing in Michael’s home. A lot of his fans will be watching.”
Teaser was raised in the small town of Guarulhos, Brazil, 11 kilometers outside of São Paulo (a bustling city of 12 million inhabitants). His fascination with Michael Jackson began early.
“I remember driving with my mom in the car, when I was 5 years old,” Teaser said.
“As she flipped through the radio dial, I would always ask her to stop when certain songs came on.” She soon realized that it was Michael Jackson and bought him “Thriller” (1982).
“I can’t remember my life without Michael.”
Teaser credits his mom as the impetus behind his career.
“I was very, very shy,” he recalled. “My mom thought that since I liked to dance around the house, maybe she could get me to dance for some friends.” In hope of pushing her son out of his protective shell.
Teaser’s trajectory was set after he was asked to perform at a fashion show for kids. “I was 9 years old the first time that I performed on stage.” He remembers thinking, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Realizing he needed to study Jackson’s dance moves more closely, to master his steps, he asked his father for a VCR.
“My family didn’t have much money.” A request his father fulfilled to encourage his son, opening doors that would likely have remained closed.
“By studying Michael’s moves, I realized that I needed to understand the movement of my body better,” he said.
Dance comprises a huge part of Brazilian cultural identity, along with music, and is considered the heartbeat of Rio de Janeiro’s annual Carnival festival. “Here in Brazil, we have some schools that are influenced by LA and New York dance trends,” Teaser said. “It’s kind of cool.”
Teaser went on to study dance. One of his classes focused on popping and locking, trademarks of Jackson’s style.
“It all came together.”
As his star began to ascend in Brazil, in 2002, he was invited to perform at “30 Years of Magic,” a fan celebration held at Webster Hall in New York City, with Jackson in attendance.
In 2005, Teaser was highlighted on Jackson’s website as one of his top mitators. When in costume, in conjunction with his voice and moves, Teaser is the verisimilitude of The King of Pop.
“In the beginning, some people said that impersonation is not art,” Teaser reflects. “I kind of started to believe that.”
Until one day after a TV performance, when Teaser was 17, a very important Brazilian director approached him. He said, “’Man, you are truly an artist.’” Humbled, Teaser asked him why? “Because you really sing, you really dance, and you really perform. That is what real artists do.’
“That (encounter) changed my vision of the way that I see what I do entirely.”
After Jackson’s passing in 2009, his show “Tribute to the King of Pop” debuted in 2012.
When asked if he has observed a magical thread that runs throughout Michael Jackson’s body of work that holds it all together?
Teaser ruminates, “Sometimes I think that Michael Jackson may have died not really knowing how big or just how magical his work was.”
“People buy a ticket knowing that I am not Michael Jackson. But, when everything is put together — the costumes, the choreography, the background dancers, the band — I see the awe in people’s faces.” He expands, “They allow themselves to be free, to let the music take them someplace else. It is hard to explain. It is just so powerful.”
Jackson is widely regarded as one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century. Teaser notes that Jackson’s music transcends culture, borders and language, even generations.
“Here in Brazil, we have a lot of poor communities. I often perform charity events for children. Many of these kids were born well after Michael’s passing.” Teaser said.
“And, somehow, they are absolutely crazy about Michael Jackson.”
When asked why she chose to work with Teaser, Batten says, “He makes a presentation that Michael himself would be proud of. He takes every aspect of the show super seriously and expects the same from the crew and performers.
“We have a huge production — dancers, musicians, special effects — I think that it is in the attention to detail where I may win over some of Michael’s fans,” Teaser said.
Details are important. Even down to the lighting cues.
Diehard fans may recognize lighting vignettes from the “Dangerous Tour” or from the 1995 MTV Awards. Teaser adds, “The same thing happens with the costumes and the musical arrangements. The production is full of hidden Easter eggs for the audience to discover.
“You feel conveyed to each Michael Jackson era when you see Rodrigo performing all the hit songs,” Smith said.
Teaser painstakingly respects every aspect of Michael’s creations.
“We didn’t change the costumes. We didn’t change the choreography. We didn’t change the arrangement of the songs. We try to come as close as we can to the originals,” Teaser said.
“I think the audience will not only see a tribute, but will feel the love that we put into this event.”
Teaser is not simply an impersonator. He is a lifelong Michael Jackson fan.
“Knowing that he gave us so much, I think that we as fans sense that he paid too much to be Michael Jackson.
“Now, there are a lot of books and interviews about him. We know that his life was not easy. Regardless, Michael always believed that he was giving his best to his fans. When I look out at the audience, I see grandfathers, dads and 5-year-old kids dancing and singing along to the same song,” Teaser said.
It is clear what perdures and keeps loyal fans engaged 13 years after Michael Jackson’s passing. In a life at times overcast by shadow, in the end all that remains is love.
“In a way, I think that Michael transcends everything,” Teaser said. Even the grave.
Michael Lives Forever
WHEN: 7 pm Saturday, July 2
WHERE: The Wiltern Theater, 3790 Wilshire Bouleard, Los Angeles
COST: Tickets start at $85