Michael Jackson tribute shows Who’s Bad in Park City
Who’s Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Experience 8 p.m. from Saturday, Dec. 29, to Monday, Dec. 31 The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St. $35 to $55 435-694-9371 parkcityshows.com
Michael Jackson was larger than life.
The self-proclaimed King of Pop, who passed away in 2009, not only introduced the Moonwalk 35 years ago to an unsuspecting audience during the “Motown 25” TV special, but has, to date, sold more than 1 billion copies of his album “Thriller,” according to Billboard.
The transcendant pop star’s legacy is marred by allegations of child abuse and sexual assault late in his life, so Vamsi Tadepalli, founder and band leader of Who’s Bad: the Ultimate Michael Jackson Experience, which will perform Dec. 29-31 at the Egyptian Theatre, knew he had to walk a fine line to create a tribute show that would not fall into parody.
“That was probably one of my biggest fears when we began doing this in 2003,” Tadepalli said. “I didn’t think a guy would be able to pull it off without people laughing, so I actually started off looking for female singers.”
The goal was to remind people of Jackson’s impact.
“Fortunately, the women whom I spoke with were very lukewarm about it, and I wanted someone who was super excited about it,” Tadepalli said. “That’s when I found the right guy.”
The right guy was James Tymes III, who takes on the Jackson role.
“We knew everyone’s eyes will be on the singer, so we had to make sure we have a good Michael,” Tadepalli said. “He needed to be passionate about what he does through the day-to-day grind of traveling across the country, not sleeping, caring for his own costumes and two-hour makeup sessions and then doing it all again the next day. And that’s who we have in James.”
Another reason Tadepalli feels the show is a hit with audiences is because of how it’s presented.
“People see Who’s Bad as a legitimate musical act because they can tell that we’re having fun with it,” he said. “They can also see that we spend hours on studious attention watching all the videos and learning all the details we can to put in the performance.”
The details include creating accurate costumes, and correctly depicting Jackson’s dance moves and mannerisms.
“Everyone knows the Moonwalk,” Tadepalli said. “Everyone knows he can spin, but there are little things he adds when he’s playing live. Sometimes they appear to be throwaway moves, but when you really look at them, you know only he can do them in that way.”
The main difference between Who’s Bad and other Jackson tributes is Tymes doesn’t try to mimic the singer during the song breaks.
“There are other tributes where the singer will talk like the singers, and that’s cool,” Tadepalli said. “When we do Michael, It’s not like our singer talks as Michael during the song breaks, but when he performs the songs, you hear and see the style, nuances and spirit of Michael.”
Taking on Jackson’s sound is also a challenge.
“He always had an iconic sound when he was a kid, but when he started working with Quincy Jones on the albums ‘Off the Wall,’ ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bad,’ the production just went through the roof,” Tadepalli said. “The attention to detail was impeccable.”
Tadepalli said the things that set the production apart was the relationship between the drums and bass.
“There’s a pop to them that sets the songs apart from the other songs that were coming out at that time,” he said. “In fact, Quincy was able to create tracks that could be released today.”
Tadepalli’s favorite Jackson song is “I Can’t Help It” from the 1979 solo album “Off the Wall.”
“Technically it’s a Stevie Wonder song, but he wrote it for Michael,” Tadepalli said with a laugh. “And that’s my favorite song.”
Tadepalli has brought Who’s Bad to Park City throughout the past decade, and he’s looking forward to coming back.
“Anytime you get to come back for a residency type of situation for multiple shows in a row, it means we’re doing something right,” he said. “Park City is a cool city. It will be cold and the elevation is a challenge. It feels like our second home.”
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