Ed Alonzo — who also worked as a concert magician on Britney Spear's Circus tour — was hired by the late singer to help design some of the magical illusions for Jackson's London shows.
"Michael was on stage performing the numbers, singing and dancing with the cast," Alonzo told Us about seeing Jackson Wednesday evening at rehearsals. "It was a privilege to be able to watch the concert that no one will see now."
He said Jackson — wearing a white shirt and pants — arrived at the Staples Center in L.A. around 6:30 p.m.
"By the time that Michael came in, all we had to do was just show [the plan] to him. He was such a quick learner," he said. "He would learn this stuff in seconds. And jump right into it! The choreography, all of it… He looked fantastic."
When it was time to sing, Alonzo said Jackson mentioned a seemingly minor ailment.
"He claimed that he felt he had a little bit of laryngitis. He said 'I'm not going to sing this full-out because I have this laryngitis.' But he looked great and these pop-locking moves that he was doing on stage with the crew were just breathtaking… He didn't seem tired. He went from one move to the next. It was an unbelievable experience to be with him and to see it all come together."
Mentally, Jackson seemed completely fine.
"He was joking with the crew on stage," he said. "There was a cameraman on stage … that was a foot away from him that was kind of crouched down and Michael said some kind of funny gesture like, 'Oh you're very close, look how close you are.' And he reached down and touched the cameraman on the top of the head in a joking manner. You could see on the screen how big Michael's image was on these projection screens. He was playful and light-hearted."
Alonzo spent the rest of the evening watching him perform.
"I just thought, 'Wow, he still has it,'" he told Us. "When he did 'Thriller,' I was just in awe. I stayed for a while, probably until about midnight. And then they started to rehearse the 'Thriller' number with a gigantic spider on stage and I thought, 'Well, it's getting late…' Had I known, I would have stayed another half hour and watched more."
He said that Jackson, who appeared to weigh only 120 pounds despite his over-6-foot-tall frame, rehearsed with the dancers until 1 a.m.
At rehearsals the following day, none of the crew knew anything was wrong until media reports began circulating the following afternoon.
"I wasn't sure what was happening," he said. "People were just looking at their phones and looking at websites and texts that they were getting. I think the news was now coming out. [Show producer Kenny] Ortega was on and off the phone probably five or six different times. And the news was slowly coming in, but it was not definitive. And Kenny finally looked at us and said, 'We need to call a group meeting.'"
Alonzo added: "He said, 'Michael Jackson was taken to the hospital. We're not sure at this point what has happened, but Michael Jackson has passed away.' And then there was just this gasp. It was the words we didn't want to hear."
With the collected group of dancers and crew members in shock, Alonzo said Ortega got choked up as he told them all that they would "wrap for now."
"He said, 'Michael said he worked with the greatest artists on this event,'" Alonzo told Us. "It was really sad."
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