Michael Jackson tribute with anti-drug message comes to Groton

Groton — A Michael Jackson tribute event with an anti-drug message might seem like an unconventional night out.

But to event planner Marlon Delgado and sponsor Lou Sorrentino, the marriage of song and sobriety is about celebrating the king of pop's positive attributes while steering students from the addiction he suffered.

"I believe that you can't just give straight medicine; you have to mix the medicine with the food," Delgado said. He added, "If I were to have this as just straight drug prevention awareness, I don't think it would've captured the community like it has."

Soaring Legal, a legal service for counseling on substance abuse issues that Sorrentino runs through the nonprofit Walk in the Light Outreach Center, is sponsoring the upcoming Thriller Night. The event will be held at Fitch High School at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Tickets, which are $10, can be purchased on Eventbrite or by calling Delgado at 860-861-7301. Cambria Enterprises has sponsored the attendance of 100 students.

The portion of the event geared toward Michael Jackson will include a performance from longtime impersonator Joby Rogers, a talent showcase and a moonwalk contest.

The anti-drug message will come in a brief talk from Sorrentino, who is 30 years sober. Groton Alliance Substance Abuse Prevention (GASP) and Project Courage will have tables to hand out information.

This is Delgado's third year working with Rogers to produce a Michael Jackson show. Delgado lives in Norwich, and the last two such events were held at Kelly Middle School.

He wanted to hold the event in Groton this year after working last year as a paraprofessional in the district.

"With all the racial tensions, I feel this is a great opportunity to pull people together off the things that they love, and Michael Jackson was all about love," Delgado said.

Joby Rogers first got into impersonating Michael Jackson in the 80s, when he was in high school. Rogers made appearances as Jackson at birthday parties, and after graduating high school, he landed a weekly gig as a tribute artist at an off-Broadway club.

He then traveled all over the world performing, and appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Conan O'Brien, MTV and VH1.

In 2003, Rogers got a signed letter from Michael Jackson himself choosing him as a substitute for an event. Jackson's 2009 death prompted Rogers "to boost the show and take it to the next level as far as a complete tribute act."

Rogers, who is from New Britain and now lives in Meriden, put together an hour and a half show with eight dancers and a production crew.

While he honors Jackson's talents, Sorrentino said people should "also learn from the things we don't want to do, like the addiction that killed him in the end."

After struggling with alcohol and then heroin addiction for nearly 20 years, Sorrentino went into recovery, attended Hartford Seminary and became licensed as a drug and alcohol counselor.

His brief talk on Friday will focus on healthy alternatives like exercising, eating well, yoga and meditation. Sorrentino will also give a short musical performance.

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