Dancer’s got the moves like Jackson in new show at Lyceum in Horton Plaza
By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
Devra Gregory’s bio is a little unusual. She started out as a young ballerina, moved on to jazz dance, went from performing in kids’ shows at SeaWorld to being a Las Vegas showgirl and an “exotic dancer,” and then found her greatest success as a Michael Jackson impersonator. In 2010, a year after the death of the megastar who was as famous for his moon-walking moves as his music, she produced and starred in “Man in the Mirror,” an MJ tribute at Jewish Community Center’s Garfield Theater in La Jolla. This year, she won a Bravo San Diego Award for “Woman in the Mirror,” a look at her own life in dance that she wrote and performed at the Tenth Avenue Theater in May. Now the piece has been revised, re-directed, and ramped-up for a pre-holiday week at The Lyceum Space, starting Dec. 1.
She calls it “reality theater.” The theme, she says, is “transformation” — all the changes she’s gone through in her personal and professional life. And she hopes to inspire others with the sense of empowerment she found along the way, as she kept on exploring different dance styles, life styles, and spiritual paths, always ready to rise to a new challenge.
But how did a nice Jewish girl from Chula Vista find herself playing Michael Jackson?
In the late 1990s, she was part of a Vegas act on the island of Aruba, and there was an MJ impersonator in the show. “One night, I was watching him, and somehow the idea went off in my head that maybe a woman could do this,” she said. “I’d never really been a fan, but once I bought Michael’s videos, and started to study his moves, I understood why he had such a fanatic fan base. He exudes such a compelling energy! I had to find a way to impersonate that, too.”
She spent many months learning a whole new system of movement, developing the right “body camouflage” and working up a routine, which she finally got to perform for a week in Aruba. Back in San Diego, she continued playing Michael, which she has been doing professionally for more than 10 years.
“I wasn’t born a princess,” she said. “I didn’t have a king to support me. But now the King of Pop is supporting me!”
She’s gone beyond dancing, too, honing her skills in choreography, acting, writing and costume design, delving into meditation and nature-based spirituality, leading women’s empowerment rituals, and becoming a certified Massage Therapist — her “day gig.”
These days, her focus is the new, improved “Woman in the Mirror.”
“It’s a culmination of all my life’s work,” she said. “Not just me doing someone else, but me doing me, in all my incarnations.”
How has the show changed since its original award-winning production? It’s got a tighter script, a new look, and a new pair of directors — Andy Lowe, producer/director of Chinese Pirate Productions, and Rhys Green, artistic director of San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre.
“Rehearsals are interesting,” Gregory said. “I get two different angles. If one misses something, the other fills in.”
“Woman in the Mirror” is an invitation to come along on an unusual journey. Audiences will surely thrill to Gregory’s onstage transformations — “shape-shifting” — as she goes from one character to the next. It’s touching, fascinating, and funny. And of course, she’s got the moves like Jackson!
If you go
What: ‘Woman in the Mirror: A Dancer’s Journey’
When: Matinees/evenings Dec. 1-9
Where: Lyceum Theatre Space at Horton Plaza
Box Office: (619) 544-1000
Moon-walking lessons: firstname.lastname@example.org or DEVasMJ.com
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