Michael Jackson fans, rejoice! The King of Pop will be brought back to life in a unique way by former The Voice star Luke Kennedy and world beatbox champion Joel Turner.

For one night only, Luke and Joel will team up for Smooth Criminals, a show at the Brisbane Powerhouse that will celebrate the life and music of Michael Jackson. I caught up with Luke to chat about all things MJ and what we can look forward to in the show.

You and Joel are a bit of an odd couple. How did you meet?
We met through a mutual friend and we had been talking about a Michael Jackson concept for a little while. Joel would do Remember the Time in his set – he does the beat, bass, chords – he does the whole thing himself. Our friend ended up putting two and two together and thought, “What’s going to happen when you put a world-famous beat boxer and myself in a room together and throw in some Michael Jackson?” I was really intrigued to find out!

How are your beatboxing skills, by the way?
Ha, awful! I’m listening; I’m so not ready to trial anything at all. Joel is so amazing. When we’re working on something I might be like, “Oh, let’s do something like this” and I’ll do the world’s worst beatbox for a second and I’ll realise who I’m talking to.

What are some of the Michael Jacksons songs in Smooth Criminals that you’ll be performing?
Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Remember the Time, Gone Too Soon – I think most Michael Jackson fans will easily relate to that.
But we want to explore some of his earlier stuff as well. I want to explore how he was feeling when he was singing a song like Ben. Being such a lonely kid, a song like that – whenever you heard him sing it, you obviously heard the truth in that for him. It’s an exploration of his music and his messages. As we get later in the show, we’ll start exploring a few of the grown-up messages he had as well – like Earth Song and Heal the World. He had some really positive things to say that are definitely still relevant now.

What is it about Michael Jackson that inspires you so much?

His greatness. That’s the thing that gobsmacks me. He’s the best and he’s always been the best. That’s what drove him; he didn’t want to do anything unless it was great, unless it was inspiring. You look at the innovations he made in music videos – the stuff that he made holds up to everything we’re doing right now. In fact, he was the pioneer – he’s the one that led the way. Musically, he led the way; production-wise, he led the way. His vocals are so out-of-this-world world-class – he’s the best singer – I think – that’s ever lived. Trying to find the human aspects of his life is really what interests us in doing this show.

What’s your favourite Michael Jackson song?
If you ask me this next week, it will probably change but Will You Be There. It’s a great one! His vocals in that song, the message of the song, the build at the end with the choir – it’s so cool.

What has the process been like, putting these songs together and putting your own spin on them with Joel? 

It’s been really interesting. Because I know [Michael Jackson’s] versions so well but I kind of feel like I’m rediscovering all this music by taking it back to its base level and just sitting there with a piano and just singing the song. You start to realise that aside from all his eccentricities and his vocal affectations and all of the things he’s iconic for – if you strip all of that stuff back, all you’re left with is a world-class song. Regardless of all of that other stuff – that was the icing on the cake – but the cake itself is such a good base. The thing that surprised me as well from pulling all of this stuff apart is just how much he wrote. Michael wrote a lot of songs himself, particularly his most iconic songs.

How long has Smooth Criminals been in the making? 

We’ve been at it for a couple of months already. We’ve still got a couple of months to go, but we’ve had a decent amount of time to really pick this apart and find out exactly what we want to say – and that’s the most important thing, I think. This isn’t just going to be a concert; it’s going to be an actual piece of theatre. We want to straddle it somewhere between concert and theatre. I want people to be able to take away something that they didn’t know about Michael from this show. We’re going to present it in such a fun way as well, because we get to do it with music.

Was it hard choosing the songs for the show? 

So far it’s been difficult. You know, this is the thing – maybe we could do Smooth Criminals: Version 1 and maybe we’ve got version 2, 3 and 4 – I don’t know. There’s so much material there, it’s so great.

The way Michael wrote is not unlike how we’re going to do it in the show. He wouldn’t use an instrument – he would beatbox and then he would sing different chords. So it’s not too far removed from what we’re doing.

Will you be looking at taking this show interstate?

Maybe. I don’t know. At this point, we’ve only got one show here at the Brisbane Powerhouse, which is selling pretty well. But we’ll see! If it sells out and everybody wants to see it, then sure!

Has there been a lot of research into Michael Jackson when making this show?

For me, a lifetime of it! I’ve been a lifelong fan. For me, it’s rediscovering a lot of stuff. Rather than treating it like a concert of his greatest hits, we’re going for something a little more special.

What can we expect to see from Smooth Criminals in a nutshell?

I think you can expect to see some Michael Jackson songs presented in a way you’ve never heard them before, or in a way you’ve never expected to hear them. I think you can expect to walk away with a little more of an insight into the man himself, that you may not have known before. My plan and dream for it is that you will walk out feeling like you know Michael a little bit better. We kind of want to discover a little bit of his truth.

You were part of The Ten Tenors and toured with Ricky Martin. What is it like doing something on your own and being able to perform in your home city?
I’ve worked on a lot of really cool projects over the years and I really like collaborating. That’s one of the things I really enjoy. Working with Joel, I found it easy because it’s one of those things I really like to do. It’s going to be fun to do our own thing.

You can catch Smooth Criminals at the Brisbane Powerhouse on December 4. Tickets are available here.

 

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