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‘Ultimate Thriller’ to play Sanford Center on Thursday

MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER The Michael Jackson tribute show “Ultimate Thriller” comes to the Sanford Center, Thursday at 7:30 p.m. with amazing dancing and impressive performance by Fabio Mardia portraying Jackson. On Tuesday, Mardia, center and the dance troupe began rehearsals for the show.

BEMIDJI — With more than 50 performances planned across the country, Bemidji is the kick-off stop for “The Ultimate Thriller — ‘The’ Michael Jackson Tribute” concert tour.

Performing Thursday at the Sanford Center, the acclaimed worldwide tour group will present a two-act, 18 song tribute concert that replicates a Michael Jackson concert, according to producer Robert Hyman.

“There’s tribute bands, and then there’s concerts; this is the entire package,” he said. “When it starts, you’ll know this embodies a Michael Jackson concert.”

Cyrus Pansch, director of sales and marketing for the Sanford Center, said the Bemidji venue was a good place for the show to set up and do their technical rehearsals before hitting the road on their American tour.

Building on Pansch’s “once in a lifetime deal,” local students from First City Dance Studio will have the opportunity to be a part of the production. Sixteen student dancers will take the stage with professionals during “We Are the World.”

“They were elated to find out they would have this chance,” said Cathy Marcotte, an instructor at the local dance studio. “I hope that they will be energized from the possibilities they have as a dancer, and see what it’s like to be a professional dancer.”

The student dancers, ranging from ages 7 through 15, will meet two hours before show time to learn choreography and meet with professionals.

Among the creative team putting together the show are choreographer LaVelle Smith Jr. and audio consultant Michael Prince, both of whom worked with Jackson closely on his tours.

“The show reminds me of what Michael Jackson was doing before his passing,” Smith said, who worked with Jackson for more than 23 years as a choreographer and was a principal dancer on the “Dangerous,” “Bad” and “History” tours. “If you’ve never seen a Michael Jackson show before, you’ll be blown away, and if you have, you’ll remember what they were like from the first time.”

After Jackson’s death in 2009, Hyman said he knew he had to do something that would commemorate the work Jackson had done.

“I was either going to do it big or not do it at all,” he said.

“We want the fans to see Michael Jackson at his best, which is why we do this tribute concert,” Prince said, who was the King of Pop’s longtime personal recording engineer and audio supervisor for all his live and television performances.

Arriving Friday, the cast and crew have been preparing for the Bemidji and American show diligently, sometimes even pulling all-nighters.

“It’s all about the details, just like Jackson taught me,” said Prince. “It’s all about every note, every dance — everything.”