Book By Lynn Nottage
Featuring the music of Michael Jackson
Directed and Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
By Lauren Yarger
If you like the music of Michael Jackson and non-stop, amazing choreography by Christopher Wheeldon (An American in Paris), who also directs, you probably will like MJ, a musical detailing the staging of the pop legend’s Dangerous Tour.
If you are looking for a balanced
telling of the troubled boy/man who was accused of sexually abusing young boys,
the book from Pulitzer-Prize winner Lynn Nottage acquiesces to the sentiment spoken
by Michael early in the production of his tour: “I want to keep it about my
music.” So the story tips in favor of creating
sympathy for him and barley touches on the events which make us question
whether this is really a person who should be glorified with a Broadway musical
in the first place (presented by Lia Vollack and the Estate of Michael Jackson).
It is present day 1992 in the Los
Angeles rehearsal studio (Scenic Design by Derek McLane; Lighting Design is by
the always-excellent Natasha Katz) where Michael (played by Miles Frost in his
Broadway debut) and his hardworking cast and crew are trying to put together
dance routines and video footage that seems almost impossible for the time. He
is switching up beats, leaving old standards behind and wanting to perform stunts
like popping from a toaster (he does this in the production) and flying in a
jet pack (disappointingly, he does not pull off this feat in the Neil Simon
Theatre after talking about it often during the two hours and 40 minutes of the
script….). The soaring expenses have his creative and financial managers urging
him to use caution. But Michael wants to give his fans a show beyond their expectations,
and he want to make sure Dangerous and the new songs will put him at the tops
of the charts. He decides to mortgage his beloved sanctuary home, Neverland, to
make it happen.
Sorry, but it is hard to feel too
sorry for a man torn by the possible loss of the place where he is accused of
abusing little boys. A scene at the beginning of the show where he beckons to a
young boy (who turns out to be his younger self) and takes his hand also is
kind of creepy. Leaving this out of the show doesn’t mean images have been
erased from our minds. In another attempt to gain sympathy Michael explains
that his change in skin pigmentation is due to a medical condition, not his
desire to be whiter. Does it really matter since we’re not really doing a full
Interspersed (through dialogue, dance
and songs – excellently directed, orchestrated and arranged by Jason Michael Webb
along with David Holcenberg) are Michael’s memories growing up with a driven, abusive
father, Joe (Quentin Earl Darrington plays both Joe -- very hard to understand
him-- and Michael’s manager Rob -- no problems with elocution --, an enabling
mother (Ayana George) and the rest of the jealous Jackson Five. (His sisters,
by the way, don’t get a mention). Two younger versions of Michael are played by
extremely well byTavon Olds-Sample and Walter Russell III and Christian Wilson.
The rehearsals are being filmed
by MTV reporter Rachel (Whitney Bashor) and bumbling cameraman Alejandro
(Gabriel Ruiz). She soon begins to wonder how dependent Jackson is on pills and
picks up a very stressed vibe among all the people around Jackson in the room.
Frost is great. Looks, moves and
sounds like Jackson (though that little boy, shy whisper is as annoying as it
was in real life.) The show is packed with more than 40 of the singer’s tunes
and some of his best dance moves. Costume Designer Paul Tazwell recreates the
look, down to the sequined glove (which was auctioned after the show to benefit
Equity Cares, Equity Fights Aids).
MJ plays at the Neil Simon
Theatre (250 W 52nd St. NYC.
Sound design by Gareth Owen,
projection design by Peter Nigrini, hair and wig design by Charles Lapointe.
Devin Trey Campbell as Little
Marlon, Antoine L. Smith as Berry Gordy / Nick, Joey Sorge as Dave, Raymond
Baynard as Randy Jackson / Ensemble, John Edwards as Jackie Jackson, Apollo
Levine as Quincy Jones / Tito Jackson, Lamont Walker II as Jermaine Jackson /
Ensemble, Zelig Williams as Marlon Jackson / Ensemble, with Kali May Grinder,
Wonza Johnson, Oyoyo Joi, Carina-Kay Louchiey, Michelle Mercedes, Renni Anthony
Magee, Ramone Nelson, Kyle R. Robinson, Aramie Payton, Kamille Upshaw, Ryan
VanDenBoom, and Darius Wright rounding out the ensemble.
-- suggestive moves
-- underworld theme of Thriller
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