By MARIE GILBERT
7:00 PM EST, January 26, 2013
The curtain rises on a darkened stage and a spotlight illuminates the silhouette of a slender man wearing a sequined glove.
A fedora covers his face, a military-style jacket drapes over his shoulders; and his feet, dressed in white ankle socks and black loafers, begin to move to a steady, pulsating beat.
The image is as powerful as the music — an image that is unmistakably Michael Jackson.
While the King of Pop is no longer with us, he still is very much on the entertainment radar.
And if the tribute band "Who's Bad" confirms one thing, it's that MJ can still sell out a venue.
For the past decade, the band has been touring the world and recreating Jackson's live performances before thousands of his fans.
In addition to the United States, the group has presented concerts in Mexico, Canada, China, Europe and South America.
"We want to share MJ's music with as many people and places that we can," said founder and manager Vamsi Tadepalli.
But regardless of where the band is performing, the show has one goal, he added — "to provide 100 minutes of high energy entertainment, featuring some of the best pop music that has ever been made."
It will be a thriller evening when "Who's Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band" appears at The Maryland Theatre on Friday, Feb. 1, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
In a career that spanned almost all 50 years of his life, Michael Jackson became a mainstay on the Billboard charts — as a solo artist and a member of the Jackson 5.
Many of those songs, including "Billie Jean," "Rock With You," "Bad" and "Beat It," will be performed at the upcoming concert.
But Tadepalli has a warning: Don't expect to be sitting in your seat for very long.
"We like to get the audience dancing," he said. "MJ's music makes you want to move, so we carefully craft our show to bring the audience in. We pay close attention to all the stylistic nuances that his music has, and we try to recreate the most authentic versions of his performances and studio recordings that we can."
The idea of a Michael Jackson tribute band began in 2003, when Tadepalli was about to graduate from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"I decided that I wanted to start a band," Tadepalli explained. "At first, it was going to be a variety act of sorts, pulling material from Michael Jackson, Prince, Kool and the Gang, James Brown and Earth, Wind & Fire. Growing up as a fan of Michael's music, he was an easy choice to include. But I kept going back to his albums and hearing more and more incredible songs that I thought would be great to incorporate in our set list. Finally, I decided, 'Why don't we just do all Michael?' I then approached my friends in the music school and asked them if they'd be interested. They said they liked the idea. So we had a seven-piece band but no lead singer."
Tadepalli said he began to focus on making sure the music sounded right, "and in my head I thought that a female vocalist would be a much better fit as a lead singer, since Michael's vocal range was so high. I also thought that having a male vocalist could come across as cheesy. But a friend of mine heard about the band and suggested that I meet Taalib York (one of the band's current lead singers). We spoke and the rest is history."
The band's first show was on Jan. 14, 2004, before a sold-out crowd.
"During the next six months, we played a total of six shows," Tadepalli recalled. "The following six months, we played 62 shows. Once word got out about the band, it was a snowball effect and we started touring the U.S. — the Southeast, followed by the Northeast and Midwest. By 2007, we had toured the entire country."
Tadepalli said they were the only Michael Jackson tribute band before the superstar's death, "so when Michael passed in 2009, we were the go-to band for fans wanting to hear his music. We began getting requests from all over the world."
Today, there are numerous Michael Jackson impersonators and tribute bands but what separates "Who's Bad" from the others, Tadepalli said, is the fact that "we put on a full production with a live band, live vocals and choreographed dance routines. There are no gimmicks and you can tell that everyone in the band really loves what they do. It's infectious to see 'Who's Bad' having fun."
The band's Michael Jackson is actually two individuals — Taalib York and Joseph Bell.
"Both men have always been Michael fans," Tadepalli said. "They alternate every other song on stage. So, while one is performing, the other is changing costumes backstage. It makes for a more fluid show because there are no lulls in between songs for the singer to catch his breath or change outfits."
Tadepalli said he always has had an interest in music, particularly jazz, which he studied in college. He also is an instrumentalist and singer-songwriter.
As manager, arranger, saxophonist, keyboardist and choreographer of "Who's Bad," he has had the opportunity to use his full range of skills, he said.
The band performs more than 150 shows around the globe each year, Tadepalli said, and has shared the stage with Aretha Franklin, Boyz II Men, The Backstreet Boys and The Four Tops.
"You can feel the chemistry of the group when you watch our shows," Tadepalli said. "Even if you don't like Michael Jackson, you can't resist the urge to join in on the fun."
If you go ...
What: "Who's Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band"
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1
Where: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac Street, downtown Hagerstown
Cost: General admission for adults is $25. Children 12 and younger, $10. Tickets are available at The Maryland Theatre box office, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Contact: Go to www.mdtheatre.org or go call 301-790-3500.
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