This Is It

October 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Jackson, Kenny Ortega, Michael Bearden
Directed by: Kenny Ortega (“High School Musical”)

Michael Jackson is probably one of only a handful of musical performers who could make rehearsing for a show just as exciting as seeing the real thing. In “This Is It,” a behind-the-scenes homage to the late superstar, Jackson may not be singing and dancing to his full ability for some scenes, but even at half-speed he proves why his talent has spanned through generations.

No matter what you feel about Jackson as a person because of the controversy that has surrounded him most of his adult life, there’s no denying what a great showman he was when the spotlight hit him and his music started pumping through the speakers. He was a perfectionist; a man possessed with the need to entertain.

Edited from hundreds of hours of rehearsal footage for what was leading to a series of sold-out concerts in London this past summer, “This is It” is a rare glimpse into a performance that never came to fruition. In June, Jackson passed away leaving his fans wondering what he had in store for them with what he referred to as his “final curtain call.”

Unfortunately, Jackson was not able to take his last bow. “This Is It” fills that void reasonably well for his legion of followers. While the backstage footage doesn’t necessarily break any ground in terms of what we already knew about Jackson, it does give a sense of just how personal each of his performances were to him. It also shows us the complete control he maintained over every nuance of the dazzling shows he created.

It’s amazing to watch all of this unfold as Jackson’s creativity mixes well with some major technical aspects to the show (green screens, pyrotechnics, makeup, visual effects). Jackson wasn’t planning to be the star of a concert as much as he was a monumental stage experience. Imagine a team of 11 dancers transforming into 11 million with green-screen technology and then moving to some sharp choreography. There’s also a reimagining of Jackson’s hit songs “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal” that will likely keep you smiling through every move and miscue.

Remember, this is just a practice session, but Jackson and his small team of technicians, musicians and dancers have given us a treat even if it’s for curiosity’s sake. And when we’re talking about Jackson, who can really say they’re not at least a bit intrigued even after he’s gone? With “This Is It,” those who loved him will cherish both his eccentricities and gifts as an entertainer.

Kenny Ortega – High School Musical 3

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

At East High School, the fictional setting of the “High School Musical” series, director Kenny Ortega is like a favorite teacher.

With the popularity of the first two films (both premiering as made-for-TV movies), it was an obvious choice for Walt Disney Pictures to release the third installment, “High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” at theaters. And since the entire cast was returning for another run, it only made sense to keep the chemistry alive and well by bringing Ortega back to the director’s chair.

During a phone conference, Ortega talked about “Senior Year” and what he remembers most about his own final year in high school.

What new elements can we look forward to in “Senior Year?”

Our characters have grown up and have come of age and are beginning to look at the whole rest of their lives after high school. We’ve been able to realize this movie in a much bigger scale and can now splash it in a huge capacity across the big screen with more detail, dimension, and design. I’m thrilled to say that our cast has brought more heart and fun to the film than ever. It’s a wonderful celebration to the final chapter of “High School Musical.”

Does your Spanish background influence your choreography?

It does, absolutely. My grandparents were born in Spain. We grew up with a wonderful blend of old culture. My grandmother Juana was so deep and rich with her love for her country and its music, dance, theater, and food. I think I share her enthusiasm. It’s wasn’t uncommon for my grandmother dance flamenco in the kitchen while cooking migas on a Sunday morning. The sound of her heels clicking across the linoleum…became part of who I am as a human being. That sort of passion and excitement for life is something that has had an impact on everything that I have done.

Tell me a little bit about your senior year. Did you go to prom? The homecoming dance?

My senior year was complicated. I was a working actor, which was a thrill. I had to find a way to keep school and a career in balance. I didn’t go to prom, so this [movie] was wonderful because I was able to go to prom in during a second visitation. I didn’t go because I was working in theater. I absolutely went to homecoming. I was a cheerleader for the Sequoia Cherokees. In the [late 60s], we were the state champion football team.

What changes have you seen in these young actors since you’ve worked with them for the past two years?

Many of them came to me as kids. Vanessa [Hudgens] was barely 16. It’s been wonderful just to watch them grow into themselves as people and to watch them lean on each other and be supportive of one another as friends and actors. I’ve also watched them grow as performers. They are all very much into their work for the right reasons. Although the celebrity to a degree is probably flattering, they’ve all known for quite some time that [acting] is what they want to do. They don’t stop learning. It’s been fun to watch them blossom as actors. It’s kind of like being a schoolteacher watching students return for another year. You get to watch them grow right before you. I’m going to miss them.

Do you think the “High School Musical” films have giving teenagers a new sense of respect for the musical genre?

I remember not too many years ago people were saying we might be looking at the death of Broadway. I would hope that “High School Musical” was an opportunity for music, theater, and dance teachers to be able to bring kids together and produce more musicals in their schools. I hope that “High School Musical” has drawn the drape back a little bit for our next generation of theatergoers and performers.