The musical MJ, an electrifying explosion of music and dance, is a thrilling tribute to the artistry of Michael Jackson, featuring over twenty-five of his hit songs.
By: Patrick Christiano
February 14, 2022: The long-awaited MJ, the musical about Michael Jackson in case you have been hiding under a rock during COVID, has opened and is an unabashedly thrilling tribute to one of the greatest entertainers of our time. The evening, an electrifying explosion of music and dance, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon does not disappoint, unless you are looking for the sordid details of the artist’s life. Wheeldon, a ballet trained choreographer, who currently serves as artistic associate for The Royal Ballet Theater in London, has brought together a mind-boggling array of incredibly talented dancers/actors, anchored at the center, with a riveting portrayal of Michael Jackson by Myles Frost.
The creative talents of Wheeldon, and book writer, Lynn Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright for Ruined and Sweat, merge beautifully. Set backstage at rehearsals for The Thriller Tour, the book weaves the musical numbers into the action through flashbacks or actual rehearsals. The result is a captivating tale that mostly ignores the underbelly of the icon.
The focus is on the evolution of his artistry and the story reveals the creative process of a musical genius, a flawed man with an obsession, to bring joy to his legends of fans by continuing to top himself with bigger and better performances. Never content to rest on his laurels, he demanded increasingly more from himself and those around him until his breaking point came with death.
We first meet the mature Michael, played by the mesmerizing Myles Frost, backstage during the rehearsal. He is simply amazing, capturing not just Michael Jackson’s way of speaking softly, yet with force, like an “iron fist in a velvet glove,” but he has surprising flashes of temper. This is a beautifully nuanced performance, plus he sings, dances, and re-creates Michael’s signature moves.
Doing a magazine interview while on break from rehearsal, the King says early on, “With respect, I want to keep this about my music.” And that is exactly what the production does. The music rules with the King in charge. There are more than twenty- five musical numbers with dazzling dancing, including “Beat It,” “I’ll Be There, “Billy Jean,” “Can You Feel It,” “Thriller,” “Man in the Mirror,” and more.
The story follows Michael until he breaks up with Motown Records. Following him as he moves to Epic, where he worked with Quincy Jones and created Off the Wall and Thriller. The songs and the dancing are the soul of the show, yet we get glimpses of the toll his artistry took on him. There are his struggles with drugs to maintain his obsessive perfectionism and glimpses of his demons, his father, the media, and his passion to be the best in the World.
The story is told in flashbacks of Michael at various stages of his life singing and performing, but it always comes back to the rehearsal studio to advance the storyline. There are three actors playing Michael: one performing as the child star of the Jackson 5; one as the teenage Michael, who broke off on his own; and the mature Michael, the King of Pop, who wowed the world with Thriller. There are often two Michaels, on stage at the same time, the mature Michael thinking back to an earlier time when the younger Michael appears and eventually takes over the stage completely. Then morphing back to the mature Michael in the rehearsal studio afterwards.
MJ is an exhilarating evening of song and dance and a portrait of an increasingly isolated artist, who felt misunderstood by the world. If audience reaction is any indication MJ is a hit worthy of The King of Pop’s impeccable standards. And yes, there is the Moonwalk.
Neil Simon Theatre
250 W. 52nd Street, NYC
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes
For Tickets Click Here
Photography: Mathew Murphy