"Every rehearsal felt like a performance," says choreographer Travis Payne. "Michael missed being onstage." And what a stage it would have been: Pyrotechnics, aerial artists and a virtual army of dancers (above) were all planned for London's O2 arena. But the show will go on: The movie Michael Jackson's This Is It—in theaters for two weeks starting Oct. 28—features footage of the L.A. rehearsals, interviews and backstage scenes. "I tried to always feel Michael in my heart while making this movie," says director Kenny Ortega, who oversaw Jackson's Dangerous and HIStory tours. Though he died of a drug overdose on June 25, onstage Jackson was precise, excited and in "amazing" form, says Payne. "He was more focused than I've ever seen him."
The dancers "were about half his age and in complete awe of him," Ortega says of Jackson, who planned an updated version of his classic dance video.
"WANNA BE STARTIN' SOMETHIN'"
Payne says the concert opener "was one of Michael's favorite songs." Ortega adds that Jackson "loved to jam with his musicians," like Tommy Organ (right). "He loved his rock and roll guitar."
"THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL"
"It tickled Michael that these songs still excited people," says Ortega, who also notes Jackson's nearly camera-ready rehearsal clothes. "He always looked so sharp."