A documentary filmmaker who interviewed Michael Jackson said: “There are a lot of weird stories that make up the rounds.
A dramatic decrease?
Michael Jackson is such a magnet for strange stories that they almost wipe out his gift. However, in defense, discarding the unimportant while resolutely ignoring the unimportant, new musical “MJ” opens Tuesday at the Neil Simon Theater, possibly Michael Jackson’s weirdest story yet.
Of course, weirdness isn’t all bad, and within the confines of the biographical jukebox genre, “MJ,” with a book by Lynn Nottage, was actually pretty good — for a while. Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, whose ballet background has found a natural outlet in dance musicals such as “An American in Paris“, The show begins with confidence and fun in a natural setting: the practice room. There, Jackson, along with the dancers, backup vocalists and band, is in the final stages of preparation. for the 1992 Dangerous tour, a 15-month marathon spanning 4 continents.
That frame means our first glimpse of Jackson’s version of the musical is a man at work, undistracted. Chimpanzee Bubblesthe Elephant human bonesthe freezing chamberthe fading skin colorthe nose disappears – or accusations of pedophilia would begin to surface a year laterat first in the tabloids, then in lawsuits and finally in police investigations.
As such, we get the pleasure of discovering, both pre-collapse Jackson and Myles Frost, a real find in the role. Singing “Beat It” as he walked in, Frost not only gave the star perfect replicas (by designer Paul Tazewell) of his classic aura – black coat, brocade, felt hat slanted, ankle-length white socks – but a strange imitation of his manners. Voice gasping; head-down, upward look; Orbits chirp and chirp: Frost makes them cold.
Maybe too cold. Without any further revelations about the singer’s personality, Frost performed songs – including hit MTV-era movies like “Bad”, “Billie Jean”, “Man in the Mirror” and ” Thriller” as well as the less familiar – coming soon numbers begin to seem cartoonish, as if he was created by Disney imagineers. It doesn’t help that there are so many of them; 37 titles are listed in the program, some with only a sample sentence.
But Wheeldon’s choreography – performed by Frost alongside an amazing choir if put together – is still more compelling, offering a three-dimensional version of what most of us only see. seen from distant arena seats or in dark videos on screens with no depth. (“Michael Jackson’s Movement” of the show is credited to two other choreographers, Rich + Tone Talauega.) The stage samples are much more varied and expressive than similar musicals, scoring zero. words are needed because they provide a thrill and follow the path of cartographic biology, paving the way between the present and the past.
Take the scene in which the Jackson 5 makes a dramatic appearance singing “ABC” at an amateur night of the Apollo Theater in 1969. The Wheeldon cast swirls the giddy brothers from stage to celebratory scene in their hotel room, at least until their perfectionist father (Quentin Earl Darrington) demands, with the fervor of a cult leader, that despite their fatigue, they rehearse at night. When ten-year-old Michael (Christian Wilson in a performance I watched) stood up and was slapped so hard that he fell to the floor, his mother (Ayana George) comforted him by singing “I’ll Be There” “when he went to sleep. .
What Katherine Jackson’s responsibilities might be, other than providing a lullaby, is not considered; she is still alive. In any case, after all this, Wheeldon took us back to the gym in 1992 with a generous gesture: The dancers pulled the sheets open to reveal the bed as a pile of travel clothes.
Jackson certainly had a difficult childhood. Although Nottage uses clichés from the jukebox to dramatize that story – including an interviewer prompting flashbacks (Whitney Bashor) and three actors splitting roles in different locations. different ages (Tavon Olds-Sample is delightful as teenage Michael) – she does it very sharp and in a format that makes it seem almost natural. Letting members of 1992’s entourage take on all the supporting roles in flashbacks is both effective and convincing.
But the story is largely devoid of humour, a problem not alleviated by Jackson’s frequent antics (he fires a pistol at his business manager) or the constant emphasis of emotional controversy. (“You sang that song as if you had lived with pain your whole life,” Berry Gordy told Michael after he performed “I Want You Back.”) As the joy of the scenes begins to fade, “MJ” settles for delivering baldly, in the relatively small space allotted for words, an avalanche of startling and heartbreaking truths.
That is why the absence of the greatest is so jarring.
In agreeing to write what was essentially an authorized biography — the show had been produced “under a special agreement with the Michael Jackson estate” — Nottage clearly compromised: She would credit his little quirks while avoiding the most troubling charges against him. Even so, there are light-hearted explanations for every peccadillo, from plastic surgeries (“This is Hollywood,” says Jackson. “Who hasn’t had a new nose?”) to hyperic disease. (“I started that rumor. I thought it would be funny”). His father’s cruelty was also covered with a glossy coat to justify: “My hand is not as heavy as the whole world will press on your black ass if you step out of line,” he said.
In this regard, “MJ” is trying to do it both ways. It wants to blame everything sad and weird about Jackson on others (especially the press, who are seen as zombies in “Thriller”) but credit him only for every good deed and success of his. he. Acknowledgments from the choreographers and musicians he collaborated with were mostly saved for the show.
This defense, constantly asserting his genius as if it were being questioned, eventually becomes dull, like any act of evil. And so, when the show, which predicted the star’s orbit, fell apart in the second half, the joy that made up for its inherent blandness no longer worked. “MJ” becomes an annoyance, a case of deliberately not looking at the man in the mirror.
If not, is it possible to make this musical? You can successfully market it as a family-friendly Broadway show, a show whose main character, despite never being convicted of a crime, deal with two sexual abuse cases out of court and die before two others were fired because the statute of limitations has expired?
It’s unlikely – and perhaps you could argue that Broadway is not the place to question such questions under any circumstances. Musicals based on real people always shed light on their worst traits. Even that fascist leader Eva Perón was protected and deified. Of course, her estate doesn’t have a “special deal” with the producers of “Evita.”
Ultimately, the problem with “MJ” is not its moral stance but the way that stance distorts its value as entertainment. Not even Jackson’s synergy of matter and Wheeldon’s reincarnation of it could make up for the emptiness at its heart; We can’t understand or accept the main character if he deliberately keeps it a secret from us.
A line from “The Man in the Mirror” also applies here: “If you want to make the world a better place, look at yourself and then make the change.” What “MJ” needs is either a lot more time to get through before daring to attach it – or another, more profound, protagonist is considered more accurate.
At the Neil Simon Theater, Manhattan; mjthemusical.com. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/01/theater/mj-musical-review.html ‘MJ’ Review: Musical Michael Jackson Won’t Look In The Mirror