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Rock With You: King of Pop Latin Style Sizzles at the El Portal

Posted By Karen Young On December 27, 2010 @ 11:54 pm In Activities,Arts & Culture,Family,My Daily Find,Theater | No Comments

BY TOM WALDMAN

The last 20 years of Michael Jackson’s life contained so many sordid stories, bizarre sightings and odd bits of information that the older he got, the more difficult it became for the public to regard him as a brilliant entertainer above all. No other performer on that scale – including Elvis during his white jump suit, jelly donut phase – suffered as much from what could be politely described as negative publicity.

A Latin-esque tribute to the King of Pop.

Paradoxically, the death of Jackson in June 2009 has gradually restored his reputation as an artist; the songs and dance moves no longer have to compete on a weekly basis with gossip and rumor. Millions of people with no firsthand memories of the Jackson 5 or “Thriller” can now better understand the real reason he matters in pop culture.

In that spirit, “Rock With You,” billed as the “King of Pop Latin Style” and currently playing at the El Portal Theatre through January 2, was conceived by choreographer and singer Seaon Stylist Bristol after Jackson’s passing. Born in Guyana, Bristol has said he decided to become a performer after watching the “Thriller” video as a boy.

The highly respectful, energetic, and at times glossy show interprets the music of Jackson – solo and with his brothers — using Latin dance styles.

At least, that’s the expectation. On some of the numbers, however, the audience will be challenged to determine what if any part of the musical arrangement or choreography is noticeably Latin. As an experiment in cross-cultural fusion, “Rock with You” has to be considered no more than a partial success.

Still, if you are not a salsa purist, the distinction may be of little importance. The production’s snazzy, tasteful dance routines, combined with Bristol’s sweet and clean vocals, satisfy on their own terms.

Bristol, who plays the role of Jackson in each song, has wisely left out many of the obvious markers that one might expect in a tribute of this kind. There is no “Billie Jean”, no “Bad”, no “Thriller” no moonwalk and no single white glove. I did see one grabbing of the crotch, but it occurred very quickly, and only near the end of the second and final act.

For those who grew up with Michael Jackson and those starting to appreciate his greatness, "Rock With You" will not disappoint.

By mainly focusing on the less familiar aspects of the repertoire, Bristol displays the sheer breadth of Jackson’s talent. We tend to forget that Jackson contributed to so many genres of music during his almost 40-year career.

“Rock With You” opens with a medley of Jackson 5 hits, and includes “Human Nature”, “Liberian Girl”, “Man in the Mirror”, and “Can You Feel It”. On “Mirror,” Bristol brought to the stage a chorus of young girls, who sang their parts well and looked very sweet.

Act II includes a version of the pop standard “Smile,” reportedly one of Jackson’s favorites, and a rousing holiday routine that should cheer even those experiencing post-Christmas withdrawals.

Enhancing the entire production, which moves at a brisk pace, is an exceptional band, under the music direction of Andrew Dorsett; the stark, urban set design, reminiscent of various musicals set in the streets of New York, which is credited to Bristol and John York; Rebecca Mauleon’s musical arrangements, and a series of dazzling outfits worn by the female dancers.

For those who grew up with Michael Jackson and those starting to appreciate his greatness, “Rock With You” will not disappoint.

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“Rock With You” runs through January 2nd at the El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood. Regular Ttcket prices range from $25 to $45, with student tickets priced at $15 and senior discounts of $5 for any ticket. For tickets, visit www.rockwithyoutour.com <http://www.rockwithyoutour.com/> or call the box office at 818-508-4200.

Tom Waldman is co-author of “Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock and Roll From Southern California”, which had its second printing in 2009, and author of “the Best Guide to American Politics, “We All Want to Change the World: Rock and Politics From Elvis to Eminem” and “Not Much Left: The Decline of Liberalism in America”. He currently serves as chief of staff to LAUSD Board Member Tamar Galatzan.

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