Chris Eisenberg may only be in his second year with the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, but his spot-on performance as a young Michael Jackson in the troupe’s “Motown ’60s Revue” is generating big buzz for the small singer.
Eisenberg, a sixth-grader at Brookside Middle School, joined the troupe in 2009 for its production of “The Crooners,” an all-male musical tribute to soul songs from the 1970s. His animated high-pitched performance as the youngest member of the Jackson 5 was such a crowd favorite that WBTT Artistic Director Nate Jacobs decided to open his 10th anniversary season with a Motown set, casting Eisenberg in his favorite role — MJ.
“My first year I was so scared,” says Eisenberg. “I was nervous I wouldn’t make a good impression. I did more listening than talking, I think.”
Unlike other child performers, Eisenberg doesn’t crave attention. Given his onstage dynamism, you’d expect him to be hyper or charismatic beyond his years. He’s neither.
Calm and thoughtful, Eisenberg is just a kid who grew up singing to whatever CDs his parents slipped into the car stereo.
“We wanted him to have a variety of musical interests,” says Eisenberg’s mother, Josephine, who noticed her son singing the most whenever Jackson 5’s “Greatest Hits” was played.
When Eisenberg heard he’d be playing Jackson again this year, he and his parents surfed YouTube for clips, viewing hours of footage, from the singer’s earliest years to his last. He perfected Jackson’s moonwalk, mastering what he calls the art of “shifting your weight to the front of your foot and pushing back.”
Jacobs, a former theater teacher at the Westcoast School for Human Development, has spent his entire career mentoring young actors and singers — many now perform in WBTT. The first time Eisenberg arrived for rehearsal, Jacobs was not only impressed with the boy’s voice, he was blown away by Eisenberg’s willingness to listen.
“Chris really wants to go somewhere,” Jacobs says. “He’s laid-back and quiet, but his spirit is alive. I immediately noticed growth from last season. The confidence is coming.”
As it should be. Eisenberg is a local celebrity. Last week WBTT sold out all of its evening performances.
Eisenberg, however, is unaffected. Following the troupe’s Jan. 20 preview performance, Eisenberg clung to Jacobs’ side, steering clear of the ambush of hugs and kisses from female fans. On the car ride home he asked his parents if he could stay up later than usual to watch a rerun of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
“Ultimately, he’s still 12,” Josephine says. “He’s at an age where whatever happens he just wants to come home and play Xbox and watch cartoons.”
If You Go
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is performing “The Motown ’60s Revue” through Feb. 7, at Art Center Sarasota. For tickets, visit www.wbttroupe.org or call 366-1505.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].