Luis Castillo of Woodbury would like to assure you that Billie Jean is not his lover. But he never tires of dancing to her tune.
By day, Castillo works in regulatory compliance at a bank. By night, he dons a single white glove and moonwalks. Using the stage name LC Jackson, he has been impersonating Michael Jackson for 17 years, since he was a ninth-grader at St. Paul Central High School. This weekend, he opens “Legacy! A Tribute to the King of Pop,” at SteppingStone Theatre, with eight backup dancers — including show manager and former school buddy Marques Matthias — and a dozen costume changes.
“Like a lot of ’90s kids, I had a childhood obsession with Michael’s music,” Castillo said. “I just practiced in front of the TV and got involved in talent shows, and surprisingly enough, caught some attention.”
Jackson, who died in 2009, is still revered by thousands of superfans, and tribute shows dedicated to his music and dance moves thrive in Las Vegas and as touring productions. But the “Legacy” show, variations of which have been staged at public and private functions around the region for the past several years, is the only Twin Cites-based version.
“A lot of people say, ‘Why don’t you go to Vegas,’ but some areas are already saturated with that kind of entertainment,” Castillo said. “Here in the Midwest, you don’t see it as much.”
This is the largest “Legacy” show Jackson and Matthias have produced to date, with a record nine performances scheduled. With 22 numbers to get through, some of them medleys or remixes, the cast dances for two straight hours, faithfully replicating Jackson’s concert tours from 1988 through 1997, and tossing in some old Jackson 5 nostalgia for the boomers.
The first two times Legacy staged the show at SteppingStone, they wound up donating nearly $30,000 to the nonprofit youth theater. This year, with higher costs, they’re renting the space. The show attracts all ages, and has built a following mostly through word of mouth.
“We get 5-year-olds dancing in the aisles who weren’t even born yet when he died, and when we do ‘I’ll Be There,’ you can really tell the older generation is in the house,” he said. “Everyone goes bananas for ‘Thriller,’ ‘Beat It’ and of course ‘Billie Jean,’ because his look for that was so iconic with the hat and glove and dance loafers.”
Matthias, who doubles as production manager for the show and one of the dancers, works as a stage manager at SteppingStone and also at the Science Museum of Minnesota. He met Castillo when the two were in high school choir together.
“This year we’re doing a couple of new mashups and some real in-your-face dancing to make things fresh,” said Matthias, who also teaches Jackson-style dancing to adults and youths a few times a year through St. Paul’s park-and-rec community education. The next sessions will begin in September.
So what’s the secret to moving like Michael, so limber his limbs seemed to be made of rubber?
Matthias said that moonwalking “is actually really simple once you get your feet coordinated.”
“Trying to help students loosen up their bodies like Michael, who was so fluid, has been one of the funnier things,” he said. “Teaching adults how to do a body roll is the highlight for me.”
A ‘phase’ endures
Castillo regrets never having seen Jackson live himself, though he was able to meet the star’s choreographer, LaVelle Smith Jr., and musical director Michael Prince when he auditioned for an “Ultimate Thriller” road show.
As he is co-raising a 4-year-old daughter right now, Castillo decided not to pursue touring, and has no plans to give up his day job.
“My mom was always supportive of my dream, but she urged me to be realistic and have a Plan A,” he said. “I think my family thought this was a phase I would grow out of. But I’m 31 now, so I guess it’s sticking around.”