MJ The Musical.
“M J The Musical”
“The Price for Fame”
“M J The Musical” at the Neil Simon Theatre is not only the great music that Michael Jackson wrote and performed, but it also goes deeper than that in many ways. Lynn Nottage (Clyde’s, Intimate Apparel) who wrote the book for the show brings forth at how the man was a perfectionist, how he saw the notes that segway eventually into the music, he could even tell his musicians just how to improve upon the melodies being played. Like Prince and James Brown, he was very demanding of his musicians and backing dancers; yet he was never forceful nor dismissive. Growing up with eight siblings in Gary, Indiana, his father, here played by Quentin Earl Darrington (he also doubled as Jackson’s stage manager) was a tough man. Joseph Jackson made his sons practice all the time leaving very little personal time for each of the then Jackson Five. Michael, who was a very sensitive boy as Nottage points out, would carry many of these memories well into adulthood.
In “M J” we get three Michael Jackson’s. The oldest is the excellent Myles Frost. Frost has Jackson’s moves, voice and cadence down pat, his movements and energy when he sings are first rate, conversely, he is very subdued when not performing. Here too Lynn Nottage deftly brings out the soft side of Jackson. Tavon Olds-Sample plays the teen Michael and Christian Wilson played the young Michael at this performance. Under both the direction and choreography of Christopher Wheeldon, all three are superb in their roles. With 37 songs throughout the show, Wheeldon directs the three actors masterfully as does he with the high energy backing singers and dancers. For the two and a half hours “M J” is a first rate, non-stop whirlwind of great songs and insightful storytelling of Micael Jackson, his family and the very secretive performer.
The show starts off with Jackson’s Dangerous Tour in 1992, MTV wants to do a documentary on Jackson. Not sure how this will play out, MTV sends Rachel (Whitney Bashor) to interview the star. The last time Michael Jackson has done an interview was fourteen years ago. Jackson is stand-offish as he does not trust the media. Rumors at this point in time are swirling on so many levels, some are true, and others are false, yet Jackson never comments either way. What we do see is the pain killers that Jackson devours in his later life due to being burned doing a Pepsi commercial and never fully recovering from that accident. As the musical alternates from when he was a child to his teens and then his later years the audience puts together pieces of the puzzle as to how Michael Jackson became the way he did. Jackson was a kind sole who continually wanted to grow and do so away from his family. Being a dutiful son, he reluctantly did a concert with his brothers rather than capitalize on his “Thriller” album. Even knowing that Don King promoting the tour would hurt both him and his family financially he still did the tour in excruciating pain.
In “M J The Musical” the audience is treated to most of his and The Jackson Five’s best songs: songs like “Beat It”, “Billie Jean”, “I’ll Be There”, “Rock with You”, “Smooth Criminal” and “Thriller” brought the house down. Derek McClane’s scenic design, Natasha Katz’s lighting and Paul Tazewell’s costumes were all right on the mark. The most prominent of McClane’s set was to “Smooth Criminal”. It gave a seedy feel to the song and yet had a jazzy feel to it at the same time. Tazewell gave the audience one great Jackson costume after another. Not to be upstaged, Katz gave us the right in the moment lighting throughout the show.
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