When Motown: The Musical begins performances on Broadway March 11, Michael Jackson won’t be there only in spirit.
The King of Pop will be right on stage – portrayed by an actor, as will several of the other big-name powerhouses from the fabled Detroit hit factory: Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and their ’60s record label’s founder, Berry Gordy. (They can all be seen in a first-look video clip of the show, exclusive to PEOPLE.com.)
Raymond Luke Jr. plays the young Jackson, who, as part of the Jackson Five with his four older brothers, was signed by Gordy in 1968, when Michael was only 10 – the same age Luke, who is now 12, was when he started “studying” the genuine Jackson.
“I didn’t know Michael Jackson [when I was 8],” admitted the L.A. native, whose grandmother first taught him to sing when he was 3, “then I started looking him up.”
A graduate of the Beverly Hills Acting School FABA (For Actors by Actors), and already a veteran of Toys “R” Us and Volkswagen commercials, Luke says, “I wanted to be a singer, but I never knew this musical was going to happen and that I’d get to sing about six to eight Michael Jackson songs” – including “I Got the Feelin’,” “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There.”
Neither did Luke know that out of hundreds for hopefuls who were seen by Motown: The Musical director Charles Randolph-Wright – both live and on audition videos – he’d be the one to land the plum role. (He’ll alternate performances with another child actor, Jibreel Mawry, whom Luke calls “amazing.”)
“Michael Jackson had intensity and a confidence, combined with a naiveté. He was almost hypnotic in his allure,” Randolph-Wright tells PEOPLE. “You can’t replicate one of a kind, but Raymond has that spirit, that feeling Michael Jackson gave you. He makes you smile.”
Living in Brooklyn with his father, Raymond Sr., while his four siblings remain out west, Luke considers making his Broadway debut “fun” – especially, he tells PEOPLE, when he wears his favorite costume, Jackson’s purple hat and bellbottoms, just like Michael did on The Ed Sullivan Show to sing “Who’s Loving You?”
For Randolph-Wright, Luke is “authentic.” And should any of Michael’s children come see the show? “It would be amazing,” Luke exclaims. “I want to make his family proud.”
Motown: The Musical, featuring the Motown music catalogue and a book by Berry Gordy, begins previews March 11 at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, with an official opening April 14.