The Legacy of Michael Jackson

Lesley Mahoney
April 20, 2010
Rebecca Perricone speaks with Miguel Milla.
Shawna Corso, Kiblah Delgado, and Miguel Milla practice the choreography.
The Michael Jackson Ensemble
Emily Miller and Ron Gordon rehearse.
Sam Kim, the production's assistant musical director
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Michael Jackson's musicianship has long been an inspiration for many, and his decades of stardom meant he was an icon for generations of fans. This made him the perfect choice for Berklee's second original student-written and student-produced musical theater production. The decision was made before the King of Pop met his untimely death last June, but took on all the more weight as a result.

The Case of Michael Jackson, scheduled for April 30 and May 1 at the Berklee Performance Center, is a collaboration between the Ensemble and Liberal Arts departments, and will feature more than 30 students taking on roles ranging from instrumentalists and vocalists to actors and dancers to managers and stage crew. 

"Michael Jackson is one of my biggest inspirations. I wanted to pay tribute to him in any way possible," said Daniele Odasso, a contemporary writing and production major who hails from Italy and will play the part of a "guardian angel."

In the fall, students crafted a script in Amy Merrill and Rebecca Perricone's Advanced Theater Scriptwriting Workshop and staged it in their spring Advanced Theater Production Workshop. The students and faculty worked with Terri Lyne Carrington's Michael Jackson Ensemble to bring in the musical elements. Michael Bearden, musical director for Michael Jackson's This Is It, will be a featured guest artist in the production, and New York choreographer Eartha Robinson arranged the choreography.

The production is told from the point of view of a Los Angeles detective investigating Jackson's death and takes the audience through his life story, music, and legacy.

This marks the second such collaboration at Berklee. Last year, students and faculty created and produced a musical theater tribute to jazz vocalist Billie Holiday. While that was realized over the course of one semester, this time around the process was extended over two. Berklee has put on other musical theater productions in the pats, but these mark the first completely original student-written and student-produced productions.

"Every single component is important," said Merrill, the production's dramaturge. "These young people are extremely talented."

"It gives students another opportunity at performance from a different angle," said Perricone, the production's director, noting that the process was very collaborative. "It took a while to find a common ground," she said. "Everyone has a different take on Michael. Trying to make the music and script is a creative process."

"It's a very delicate dance between the music side of things and the script," said Carrington, the production's musical director. She has mostly kept to the original arrangements of Jackson's songs, given people's strong association with his music.

For Berklee, these productions mark a new kind of interdisciplinary collaboration, bridging music and liberal arts in a dynamic way.

"This program helps students synthesize their learning, connecting their study in liberal arts—their study of writing, of theater, of history—with their study of music," said Camille Colatosti, chair of the Liberal Arts Department. "In addition, students learn how words come to life through performance; they learn performance techniques that go beyond a recital; they learn to embody a character, to take on a role, to present a persona on stage. They learn to integrate their artistry as musicians with their creativity as writers, actors, dancers, producers, directors, and more. Students take charge of every aspect of the production—from putting that first word on the page, to designing sets and costumes, to arranging and playing music, to choreographing scenes, to directing others."

Byung-Hoon "Brandon" Lee, a music business management major from Seoul, Korea, is the production's assistant director. From the drafting of the script to turning it into a full-fledged production, the process has been intense, he said. "It's been fun and hard to put it all together." For Lee, the timing of a production about Jackson was "poignant." He said, "The day he died, the first thing I did was register for this class."

Sam Kim, the production's assistant musical director, had mostly been exposed to the negative publicity surrounding Jackson. But after taking Carrington's ensemble in the fall, he was moved by Jackson's musicianship. Being part of such a production has brought his newfound appreciation for Jackson's music and humanity full-circle. "It's been a crazy experience," he said. "I've never seen anything like this at Berklee."