'Smooth Criminal' brings Michael Jackson experience to Westminster

While Michael Jackson's life wasn't always black and white, he never shied from analyzing the man in the mirror. A student of human nature, many of his songs were written in an attempt to heal the world. Now, to share another part of the famous pop star and the way he makes people feel, Aly Cardinalli, owner of the American School of Inspiration Dance Studio has put together a thriller of a show, "Smooth Criminal: The Michael Jackson Experience."

The production, written and directed by Cardinalli, takes a number of Jackson's greatest hits and strings them together to tell the story of three girls who age out of an orphanage and begin working as go-go dancers in Santa Barbara, California. The show will be hosted at the Carroll Arts Center this weekend.


"Last year we did the show "Fosse" [about famed choreographer Bob Fosse] which is a revue-style show, so originally we were thinking of doing another revue and showcasing how theatrical Michael Jackson was and how iconic his music is," Cardinalli said. "But a popular thing to do nowadays is a jukebox musical, where you take the songs and build a storyline out of them. We thought instead of doing a revue, we'd put this show together."

Each year, the American School of Inspiration performs three major shows at the Carroll Arts Center, with five smaller productions held at the school in Damascus. The cast consists of the school's students who come from around the state, and range in age from 5 to 55, though a majority of performers are in middle and high school.

Cardinalli said it's vital for young performers to have the opportunity to do productions in actual theaters in addition to the work they do in high school theater programs.

"A lot of dance studios don't actually prep kids for work, so the style of teaching here isn't a standard teacher-student relationship, it's instead a boss-employee relationship," Cardinalli said. "This kind of setup and program and culture teaches you about professional relationships that are friendly but are not your friends."

"Smooth Criminal" follows three young girls from Indiana who decide to move to Santa Barbara to dance after aging out of the orphanage they grew up in. While working at a go-go dance bar, they begin making bad decisions and their lives begin to fall apart.

"The show showcases how Michael Jackson thought children had their childhood stolen from them," Cardinalli said. "He thought that children were forced to make adult decisions too early on in life, so it's in the spirit of Michael Jackson and what he believed."

To put together the script, Cardinalli said he consumed Jackson's interviews, autobiography, films, as well as read what others had to say about the King of Pop. He then took snippets of each and worked them into the script, crafting dialogue out of actual quotes from Jackson."

"He is the most influential artist for dance and music of all time," Cardinalli said. "Who else could you do this about?"

Madeline Soypher, 17, of Frederick, plays one of the lead girls, Elizabeth. She said she's been a huge fan of Michael Jackson, and it's a thrill to be a part of the show.

"It is always exciting, but you're also always nervous going into a performance," Soypher said. "Thankfully we're all such good friends and we're so relaxed that it turns into a fun experience."

For Alicia Rene, 16, of Baltimore, who plays the DJ at the bar, this show represents her first time on stage as an actress.

"I've been doing preprofessional ballet training since I started high school, but last year I started singing as well," Rene said. "This is my first show where I've been acting, and I didn't think it was going to be as hard as it was."

In the show, Rene has 18 costume changes, one for nearly every time she appears on stage. Cardinalli said costumes are another part of the Jackson legend he wanted to capture on stage.

"You think Michael Jackson and you think glitter and sparkles and everything like that," Cardinalli said. "It's only right that we try to feature those in the 200 costumes we've got in this show."



If You Go

What: Smooth Criminal: The Michael Jackson Experience

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12 and Saturday, Aug. 13

Cost: $15 online, $17 at the door.