“When I do something it’s got to have a story…an opening, a middle and a closing, so you can follow a linear thread. So while you are watching the entertainment value of it, you’re also wondering what is going to happen next.”
In a time when most music videos offered predictable visuals, Michael did THEATRE. Smooth Criminal, a 10 minute sequence, was the centerpiece of the short film, MOONWALKER, which surpassed THE MAKING OF THRILLER as best-selling home video of all time. (It was THE MAKING OF THRILLER which introduced the concept of home video entertainment.) So, what are its elements of THEATRE:
Story line: Taken from MOONWALKER The Storybook…MICHAEL, KATY, SEAN AND ZEKE ARE FOUR GOOD FRIENDS ENJOYING A GAME OF SOCCER WHEN THEIR LIVES ARE SUDDENLY ENDANGERED BY THE DIABOLICAL MR. BIG, AN EVIL MASTERMIND WHO KIDNAPS KATY AND IS DETERMINED TO DESTROY ANYTHING OR ANYONE STANDING IN THE WAY OF HIS EVIL DREAMS…EVEN MICHAEL. SPEEDING CARS, HOT DANCING AND AMAZING CHASES ARE ALL PART OF THE FUN AND EXCITEMENT IN MOONWALKER. A movie to remember and a story you’ll want to read again and again. In the story, Michael’s goal is to save Katy, Zeke and Sean and all the children of the world. At first glance, as with all of Michael’s work, a simple message seems to play out. But upon further study, layers of artistry are revealed.
It bears repeating that Michael’s songwriting and composing move from a recorded performance to visual performances…short films and live theatre performances. The progression for THIS DREAM CAPSULE is: composition, songwriting, short film, storybook, stage performance, wearable art, icon fashion, ICONIC CHOREOGRAPHY (body as canvas) and, of course, MESSAGE. “Michael always had a dream. He cannot remember a time when it wasn’t there. He would think about the dream as he made wishes on stars or blew out candles. He also worked hard to help this dream along. He wanted to sing and dance all over the world and touch the lives of people everywhere. He loves sharing his talents with everyone and he believes we all have something to share. Michael’s songs have special meanings and messages. They ask people to stop and think about their actions, think about other people, think about the world. Michael likes to remind the millions of people everywhere that a single person CAN make a difference, CAN change the world and make it a better place.”
When the recorded performance was completed, the short film concepts and storyboards created, the next element of theatre was style, fashion. What became the signature “Smooth Criminal look”, Michael wore a white pin-striped suit, suspenders, spats, a white fedora with black band…his armband, on his right arm, worn on every jacket thereafter, was also introduced. Michael also introduced the tapes on three fingers of his right hand. In his book, KING OF STYLE Dressing Michael Jackson, Michael Bush explained: To us, Michael was a teacher who changed our professional lives in ways we never expected. The depth and complexities of our creations often surprised us…and that was because Michael was our muse. His philosophy was to always try something new, to make people do a double take. His philosophy became our own. He taught us to expect change and to look for laughter and humor in every day. Together, we would go on to create what he liked to call ‘wearable art’. Dressing him was a multilayered process of conveying a message, evoking an emotion, and stimulating a thought in anyone who laid eyes on him. His clothing was both reflection of and companion to his lyrics, short films, special effects and tours; it contributed to a greater whole.”
CHOREGRAPHY: In the short film, Michael steps into a speakeasy, halting the movement inside. I remember Kenny Ortega talking about what he thought set Michael apart from other performers and he said it was Michael’s timing. Michael instinctively knew when NO movement was the right movement. CHOREOGRAPHY BECAME DEFINED AS HIGH ART IN THE HANDS OF MICHAEL JACKSON. “Considered by many to be Michael’s best music short film, SMOOTH CRIMINAL is a multisensory masterpiece. Brilliant! It contains some of Michael’s most slashingly visionary dance moves.” Owen Gleiberman Michael propels the crowd inside the speakeasy by tossing a coin into a jukebox…from then on, the entire speakeasy is alive with music and movement…choreography encompassing everything from tango-like dance to gamblers playing craps. Through it all, Michael glides through, sometimes in unison, sometimes in counterpart and sometimes in complex relationship with the other dancers. (C. Sunami) “None of the signature moves that appear in the short film…the moonwalk, the lean, the circular rotation…is sustained for more than a few seconds. Rather, Michael’s performance is mercurial, shifting instant by instant through movement vocabularies that other performers might spend years to develop and perfect. This lends a unique quality to his motion. He’s not so much dancing to the music as an ordinary person would. Rather, his dancing floats on top of the music, a dizzying progression technological virtuosity.” Surnami
VOICE: Michael wrote and arranged Smooth Criminal in a way as to give the listener feelings of mystery and horror while placing this Dream Capsule in the 1930’s film noir genre…sending pop music into an exploration of unexpected, even uncomfortable territory. The track begins with Michael’s heart beat (recorded by Dr. Eric Chevlan), digitally processed in the Synclavier. It is suspenseful as the song explodes into its signature opening bass line. Michael’s vocals are throaty and rough. Setting Michael apart from other vocalists is complicated at best to explain. His vocal range moves from Bass Low C with vibrato to G above high C with vibrato. This is more than 3 and a half octaves. But, that isn’t all. His ability to move from angelic to sensual to Rap to gritty to non-verbal sound is legend. Putting these gifts together makes for powerful lead and background vocals. His ability to do background vocals so tight, matching vibratos perfectly, is also legend. And then, there is emotion. MICHAEL JACKSON EMOTES. As Jill Scott said…”That’s a gift.” Michael voice trained two hours a day/six days a week with Seth Riggs for 32 years. On live performance days, Michael voice trained three/one hour sessions. An unparalleled gift coupled with intense work equaled a voice extraordinaire. His voice WAS the music. Going deep inside the music, Michael created sonic imagery, fantasy, personality. His background vocals are textures unto themselves. He could create emotion without language! His cries, moans, exclamations, grunts, gasps…Michael communicated beyond the strictures of language.
LIVE THEATRE: Michael could literally hold an audience in his hands. He owned the stage. Tour lighting went beyond anything anyone else was doing, creating dreamlike sequences. Costumes were designed to enhance the visuals. Michael’s wardrobe was carefully created to allow his body to move and showcase the dance and the dancer. Enormous jumbotrons were placed to ensure that even those seated at the back of stadiums could enjoy the show. Surrounding the stage were electronic devices that brought iconic and recognizable visuals to enhance the theatre experience. “Believe in the value of your audience.” MJ No performer believed more. Michael wanted to create magic and mystery…to surprise and move masses of people, bringing them all along for an amazing ride. “Michael had an uncanny ability as a creator/performer to take his audience on a journey and not lose them for a second. He knew when to go big and when to pull back, when to be extravagant and when to be subtle. He was a master of pathos and of building dramatic tension.” MAN IN THE MIRROR Joseph Vogel
Performance Day meant: Vocal training with Seth Riggs 12:00-1:00, 4:00-5:00 and 7:30 to 8:30. Dancing 5 to 6 hours. Backstage visitations by underprivileged and terminally ill children and their families, After Performance Fan time while driving to his hotel and at his hotel…on non-performance days, Michael visited children in hospitals and orphanages in the cities where performances took place.
Midpoint in the show, Michael was raised high above the audience on a cherry-picker performing BEAT IT…by that time in the show, he had lost 5 pounds…at the end of the show, Michael had lost 10 pounds and his waist size had dropped from 28 inches to 27 inches.
“WHEN I GET ON STAGE, I DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENS. IT FEELS SO GOOD, IT’S LIKE THE SAFEST PLACE IN THE WORLD TO ME. I WAS RAISED ON STAGE. CERTAIN PEOPLE WERE CREATED FOR CERTAIN THINGS. I SEE NO OTHER THING THAT I COULD BE DOING.” Michael Jackson Age 18
Michael’s performances are electrifying. “I don’t think I have ever worked with another artist that can cause as much excitement as Michael.” Bruce Swedien
SMOOTH CRIMINAL opens with a stylized series of silhouetted dance movements by Michael behind a screen…then, he and the other dancers perform choreography both unique to the stage performance and reminiscent of the short film. The lean was added during the DANGEROUS WORLD TOUR. It is THEATRE at its finest. Fans recognize the ICONIC. They have been introduced to many aspects of THEATRE previously in Michael’s short films. Michael understood how this “added to excitement and communicated something to the audience that allowed them to become more involved with the show.” Michael Jackson Moonwalk 1988 When the audience caught sight of Michael’s whit, pin-stripped suit, the white fedora…they became an integral part of the performance. Their value added to the THEARTRICAL EXPERIENCE. Now, tell me that isn’t genius!!