MJ, the jukebox musical on Broadway, recounts the journey of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. But behind the glitter, one chapter appears to be missing. And that makes the musical untrue to the storyline.
Michael Jackson had always attracted bizarre stories that threatened to overshadow his phenomenal gift. But by pointedly overlooking the stories that matter, MJ, the musical, could be a surreal version of Michael Jackson’s story.
But then, to begin with, MJ is pretty good, to begin with, devoid of the strangeness surrounding his life and times. It is a successful effort when seen within the limitations of the factual jukebox genre. Christopher Wheeldon is the director and choreographer and has dance musicals such as An American in Paris to his credit.
MJ starts on strong ground, Michael Jackson’s rehearsal room. This is where one sees the verve and confidence of a natural showman, perhaps the greatest ever. The setting is the preparation for the Dangerous tour in 1992. It was a grueling 15-month tour, spanning 4 continents.
The Depiction Of The Genius In MJ Cannot Hide A Certain Inner Emptiness
The oddities and the controversies were still some way off. It would be a year before the charges of pedophilia would surface, moving from the tabloids to police investigations.
MJ is a double discovery, of Michael before the slide into oblivion, and of Myles Frost. He enters with Beat It, dressed in the classical regalia of a black jacket, tilted fedora, gold brocade, and white socks dragged to the ankles. There is the uncanny breathy voice, the heads-held-down, stare-up-gaze. And the interjecting yelps and squeals.
MJ’s choreography is compelling and gives us a 3-dimensional vision of what we have only seen from a distance.
There is an appearance of their perfectionist father and their comforting mother as she comforts little Jackson after a run-in with his father. He had a hard childhood.
But the show was produced with the cooperation of the Michael Jackson estate, and that has led to certain compromises. In some ways, MJ tries to pin all that is weird and sad about Jackson on someone else, mostly the press, who are projected as the zombies in Thriller.
That is where it gets jarring, a willful turning away from reality. The main character is deliberately kept away from us. MJ could have done with a central character who was deeper, different, and more considered.