It’s not a easy musical.
The troubles over at “MJ: The Musical,” the brand new present about Michael Jackson that opened Tuesday evening on Broadway, are a lot greater than the controversy surrounding its topic — though the 2 are carefully linked.
Whereas the lifeless script is written by Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage of “Ruined,” the pat dialogue feels as if it was co-authored by a lawyer for the Jackson property — one of many producers — with Wite-Out and a Sharpie.
Operating time: 2 hours, half-hour, with one intermission. Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.
When Michael (Myles Frost, terrific) isn’t talking in hokey motivational phrases — “An elephant is at all times able to go as a result of he sleeps standing up” — he’s giving obscure p.r. statements of innocence about unspecified infractions.
“It doesn’t matter what I do, it at all times will get twisted,” he says to an MTV documentarian (Whitney Bashor) through the 1992 rehearsals for his “Harmful” tour, the place “MJ” is ready. What he’s referring to is the “Wacko Jacko” nickname newspapers gave the singer — who died in 2009 — due to his often unusual conduct.
No allegations of sexually abusing kids had been introduced in opposition to Jackson till Jordy Chandler did so in 1993 (the case was settled for $23 million). So those regular slumber parties with 8-year-olds on the dwelling of the world’s most well-known man that the press so “twisted” don’t come up within the musical. Nice.
Nonetheless, the singer retains decrying “the fixed noise, the media, the lies.”
Michael complains to MTV about journalists and to his enterprise supervisor about tour prices. He lists off his charity work (once more, legal professionals), giggles so much, takes painkillers and tells his dancers to do higher. Then the solid performs one other quantity in exercise garments.
We be taught subsequent to nothing a few deeply fascinating determine apart from a surface-level examination of his troublesome childhood through the Jackson 5 days with monster dad Joe Jackson (Quentin Earl Darrington, who additionally performs tour supervisor Rob) and the way that knowledgeable his tireless value ethic.
In skipping over essentially the most dramatic components of his life, Nottage seeks to disconnect the artist from the artwork. That’s been efficiently executed earlier than with Jackson: in Cirque du Soleil’s music-centric present “Michael Jackson: One” in Las Vegas and “Thriller” in London.
Specializing in his glorious songs is the appropriate tack. Who doesn’t love Jackson’s catalog? I actually do. “Thriller” and “Billie Jean” are within the present, together with some 30 others, akin to “Beat It,” “Clean Legal” and “Don’t Cease ’til You Get Sufficient.” So, make them explode off the stage.
However “MJ,” directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, doesn’t match or actually method the electrical energy of the King of Pop, who was an unparalleled dwell performer. The rehearsal-room setting and narrative randomness, significantly within the winding second act, tamps down the live performance vitality.
That’s not the fault of Frost, the absurdly proficient newcomer who captures Jackson’s voice and physicality effectively. Quite the opposite, we really feel fortunate to be witnessing the beginning of a brand new Broadway star. The identical is true of the great Tavon Olds-Pattern as “Thriller”-era Michael who, beaming, transports us again to the Nineteen Eighties, even when the manufacturing across the actor doesn’t. As mother Katherine Jackson, Ayana George has the present’s greatest musical second when she duets on “I’ll Be There” along with her son.
All, nonetheless, are hobbled by an indecisive script — the documentary plot and backstory are clumsily mixed, and the cartoonish characters are straight outta “Scooby-Doo” — and low-energy, unattractive staging.
Derek McLane’s units are principally grey, identical to these of Wheeldon’s “An American in Paris,” presumably to permit the dancing to pop in opposition to them. Doesn’t work. Michael wears black and white much more usually than purple, and the colorlessness of the stage flatters no person.
The one flicker of Jackson’s (and Wheeldon’s) genius comes earlier than Michael performs “Clean Legal,” when stand-ins for Bob Fosse, Fred Astaire and the Nicholas Brothers take the stage, and we see how these icons affect Michael’s motion.
The sequence is novel, invigorating and sensible — precisely what the remainder of “MJ” isn’t.