It’s not a smooth musical.
Much bigger is the trouble of “MJ: The Musical,” the new Michael Jackson show that debuted Tuesday night on Broadway, than the controversy surrounding its subject matter – although the two are closely related.
While the lifeless screenplay is penned by Pulitzer Prize-winning Lynn Nottage of “Ruined,” the dialogue appears to have been co-written by a Jackson estate lawyer — one of the producers — along with Wite-Out and a Sharpie.
Duration: 2h30, with an intermission. Neil Simon Theater, 250 W. 52nd St.
When Michael (Myles Frost, terrific) isn’t speaking in hokey motivational phrases — “An elephant is always ready to go because he sleeps standing up” — he’s giving vague declarations of innocence about unspecified offenses.
“No matter what I do, it always gets twisted,” he tells an MTV documentarian (Whitney Bashor) during rehearsals in 1992 for his “Dangerous” tour, where “MJ” takes place. It refers to the nickname “Wacko Jacko” that the newspapers gave to the singer – who died in 2009 – because of his often strange behavior.
No child sexual abuse allegations were brought against Jackson until Jordy Chandler did so in 1993 (the case was settled for $23 million). So those regular slumber parties with 8-year-olds at the world’s most famous man that the press so “twisted” don’t happen in the musical. Fine.
However, the singer continues to denounce “the constant noise, the media, the lies”.
Michael complains to MTV about reporters and his business manager about touring expenses. He lists his charity work (again, lawyers), laughs a lot, takes painkillers, and tells his dancers to do better. Next, the cast performs another number in practice clothes.
We learn next to nothing about a deeply fascinating figure other than a cursory examination of his difficult childhood during Jackson’s five days with monster dad Joe Jackson (Quentin Earl Darrington, who also plays tour manager Rob) and how that informed its indefatigable ethical value.
Skipping the most dramatic moments of his life, Nottage seeks to disconnect the artist from art. This has already been done successfully with Jackson: in the Cirque du Soleil musical show “Michael Jackson: One” in Las Vegas and “Thriller” in London.
Focusing on his great songs is the right approach. Who doesn’t love Jackson’s catalog? I certainly do. ‘Thriller’ and ‘Billie Jean’ are from the series, along with around 30 others, such as ‘Beat It’, ‘Smooth Criminal’ and ‘Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough’. So blast them off the stage.
But “MJ,” directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, doesn’t quite match or approach the King of Pop’s electricity, who was an unparalleled live performer. The rehearsal room setting and the randomness of the narration, especially in the meandering second act, dampen the energy of the concert.
It’s not Frost’s fault, the absurdly talented newcomer who captures Jackson’s voice and physique well. On the contrary, we feel lucky to witness the birth of a new Broadway star. So does the marvelous Tavon Olds-Sample as “Thriller”-era Michael who, beamingly, transports us back to the 1980s, even when the production around the actor doesn’t. As mom Katherine Jackson, Ayana George has the show’s best musical moment when she duets on “I’ll Be There” with her son.
All, however, are hampered by an indecisive storyline – the documentary’s plot and backstory are awkwardly combined, and the cartoonish characters are straight out of “Scooby-Doo” – and low-energy, low-energy directing. attractive.
Derek McLane’s sets are mostly gray, much like those of Wheeldon’s “An American in Paris,” perhaps to allow the dance to leap against them. Does not work. Michael wears black and white much more often than red, and the colorlessness of the scene flatters no one.
The only flicker of Jackson’s (and Wheeldon’s) genius comes before Michael performs ‘Smooth Criminal’, when replacements Bob Fosse, Fred Astaire and the Nicholas Brothers take the stage, and we see how these icons impact the movement. of Michael.
The streak is novel, invigorating, and smart – exactly what the rest of “MJ” isn’t.
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Michael Jackson’s Broadway Show Cleans Up His Life – CNET – ApparelGeek