Startin’ somethin’…
Publicists, PR folk and agents provocateurs were in their element prior to the London opening of MJ the Musical (Prince Edward Theatre). The talk was of an amazing production being overshadowed by the avoidance of any controversial stuff being included, which in 1993 was an accusation of Michael Jackson (MJ) abusing a 13 year-old. Ironically this all happened while Jackson was preparing for his Dangerous World Tour. The tour started but as the second leg began it was cancelled by Jackson citing health problems arising from the scandal. Watching the show with this psychological sword of Damocles hanging over its head made for an uncomfortable, yet exhilarating ride. The rehearsals for that tour are where the show is set and be you fan or cynic one has to admire playwright Lynn Notage’s skilled writing which has perfunctory references to his difficulties in navigating his way through life, though no talk of paedophilia. That said this is no hagiography either.
Director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon makes this jukebox musical a spectacle that will take your breath away, hit after hit that emphatically cements MJ in pop music history as one of the great entertainers of his or any other generation. Myles Frost plays Jackson and his performance is astonishing, dance moves that are scintillating – gliding across the stage with extraordinary elan – and when he speaks his tone is soft, sweet and vulnerable, a man-child who for seventeen years of his life lived in Neverland, a ranch modelled on the fantasy island in Peter Pan. There are many set piece highlights with the reimagining of Thriller, a nightmare of grotesques and lascivious ringmaster, being particularly notable, theatricality worthy of Cirque du Soleil. However, it is the solo, Billie Jean, dressed in sequinned jacket and single sparkly glove, when Frost invokes Jackson as though imbued with his spirit.
A 43-year career which began with the Jackson 5 – flashbacks to those days are disconcerting as their father Joseph drills them like a sea lion trainer – and culminated in a pop discography second to none, a catalogue now partly owned by Sony, means that the songs are greeted by the enthusiastic audience with whoops of glee. Several are dressed to thrill, including a number of black fedoras all tilted at just the right angle. The various actors who play the “King of Pop” at different stages of his life bring their own brand and interpretation, each one laying down a marker of song and dance talent. Can You Feel It and Beat It, again supernova performances, add to the distraction and further avoidance of addressing the elephant in the room. We do get talk of nose jobs and the vitiligo which caused his skin to become so pale but again it is presented by Notage as a small, insignificant newspaper story rather than a front-page headline. The show builds to an astonishing climax and we hear Jackson ask himself, in response to exacting rehearsals with his exhausted dancers, “But is it perfect?” Maybe not, it’s certainly thrilling and as jukebox musical spectaculars go you can’t beat it, but the producers have also opened up a Pandora’s box that somebody one day will have the courage to finish.
Talking to a few of the audience afterwards the missing “controversy” didn’t come into any of the vox pops, they didn’t give a jot. And one of them was so vehement that he ended by exclaiming “Man, can’t you feel it!” This show has certainly whipped up emotion and has flicked the on switch for startin’ somethin’…
MJ the Musical –

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