"I get a huge kick out of the audiences," said Linda Collins, producer of "Moonwalker: The Reflection of Michael," which plays at Harrah's Tahoe on Saturday. "They come up to the cast afterward and cry. They grab Michael and hug and hug him. They don't want to let (him) go."
Few stars inspire such emotional fealty. Michael Jackson's image and music continue to fill casino theaters long after his 2009 death (witness the success of the Eldorado's "Man in the Mirror" this past year).
According to Collins, "Moonwalker" isn't like anything else on the market. "It's not a tribute," she said. "It's a full-fledged show, the closest thing to a Jackson show itself. It's a full production."
Musical director Rohn Simpson concurs. He has been performing for more than 30 years, many of those with Mighty Clouds of Joy and Blind Boys of Alabama, and shares arrangement credits with Lavar Dillard.
"This is a non-Vegas show," Simpson said. "It's full Michael. In Vegas you get snippets of him and then the shows move on to other impersonators. It's not enough. Here, you get what he does and what he was about. Ninety minutes to two hours of Michael. It's long enough that the audience can truly get into the music side of it."
Collins had been a booking agent for 23 years, primarily bringing talent to corporate events. After Jackson died, she decided to produce the show, which premiered at Harrah's in Illinois in August 2009.
"From then on, it has become the passion of my life," Collins said. "I am so emotionally attached to this show. It is all I want to do."
The production at Harrah's Tahoe will feature a four-piece band and two backup singers along with several supporting dancers. Branden Jones performs as Michael Jackson (7:30 p.m.; $38.50; Ticketmaster).
Meanwhile, across the highway at sister property Harveys' Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena, the summer schedule is filling out. Jam band Phish, which has sold out shows in the past with tickets disappearing online in as fast as 15 minutes, is playing two concerts this year, on July 30 and 31 ($60 general admission). Also recently signed: the Steve Miller Band, June 22 ($39.50 to $135) and the Dave Matthews Band, Sept. 4 ($75). All tickets for the season are sold through Ticketmaster.
Boomtown, Reno Guitar Bar: Keith Allen, today- Saturday; Rock River, today-Sunday. Events Center: Great White, Saturday. (800) 648-3790.
Carson Valley Inn Valley Ballroom: the Four Preps, today-Saturday. Cabaret Lounge: Decoy, today-Saturday; George Pickard, Sunday-Wednesday; Melissa Dru, Thursday-April 6; Dale Poune, April 7-10. (775) 782-9711.
Eldorado, Reno Showroom: "Magique," Tuesdays-Sundays, through April 14; "Menopause the Musical," Tuesdays-Sundays, April 19-July 14. (800) 648-5966.
Harrah's Lake Tahoe South Shore Room: Moonwalker The Reflections of Michael, Saturday; Elvin Bishop, April 6. (800) 427-7247.
Harrah's Reno Sammy's Showroom: the Four Tenors, Thursdays-Sundays, through May 28. The Stage @ the Zone: Apple Z, today-Saturday; Renegade, next Friday-April 6. (800) 427-7247.
Harveys, Lake Tahoe Shayla Rivera, today- Sunday; Allan Havey, Wednesday-April 7 (800) 427-8397.
Horizon, Lake Tahoe Illusion Fusion starring Alex Ramon, Thursdays-Tuesdays. (775) 588-6211.
MontBleu Resort, Lake Tahoe Blu Nightclub: J-Boog and Hot Rain, Monday. (888) 829-7630.
Silver Legacy, Reno Grand Exposition Hall: Creedence Clearwater Revisited, May 24; Amy Schumer, May 25. (800) 687-8733.