Desireé Bassett has played with some big names on some big stages, but it doesn’t get much bigger than Michael Jackson.
The Ashford resident isn’t playing with Jackson, of course — he died in 2009 — but Bassett, 19, is the lead guitarist for Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour,” playing the King of Pop’s songs as part of a huge production that mixes music, dance and Cirque’s trademark acrobatics.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Bassett says by phone before the show sets up in Hartford for performances Wednesday and Thursday. “This has been my first tour ever, so a lot of these things are brand new to me.”
Pop music is one of them. Bassett started playing guitar when she was 2, gravitating toward blues and classic rock, especially the flashy playing of instrumentalist Joe Satriani. Those styles dominate the three CDs she released between 2008-10. Learning Michael Jackson’s catalog sent her in a new direction.
“I’ve never played pop music before, so it was a jump for me, but at the same time, it gives me that versatility,” she says. “Michael was definitely a musical genius.”
Working as part of a vast ensemble of musicians and dancers in a show with high production values was a new challenge, too.
“Playing with my band and stuff, it’s just rock music and I get to do my thing,” Bassett says. “With this, it’s not just being able to play the music, but there’s a theatrical end to it, too. I never used to move around as much, but it’s just so fun to intertwine the two.”
The theatrical part of it appeals to Bassett, who says she sometimes performs on her own wearing a tux and tails. Just getting ready for Cirque show takes 2 ½ hours, Bassett says.
“The makeup part is the most difficult part,” she says. “At first they show us how to do it, but then we have to do it on our own, and I’m very particular.”
Bassett is signed up through the end of the North American tour in August, and she hopes to continue on through the European leg, and maybe Asia and Australia, too, which could keep her busy through 2013.
After that? It’s back to rock ’n’ roll.
“I’ve been writing some songs and pressing to try to release a new album as I’m on the road and all that,” she says.
“Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” stops at XL Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Hartford, May 2-3. Tickets are $175, $125, $80 and $50 via www.ticketmaster.com. Information: 860-727-8010.