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Dark and stunning, “MJ the Musical” is not just another movie review – review

There is something nightmarish about the spectacle of Michael Jackson being endlessly and profitably exhumed from his estate: hologram appearances, posthumous albums, an upcoming biopic and now this fourth stage show about his life (after the West End). Thriller Liveand two Cirque du Soleil spectacles). But like a miracle MJ the musical doesn’t just feel like another cash grab — and it’s all thanks to the impressive writing talents of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage (Sweat, Clyde’s), which exposes Jackson’s late career for the haunted circus that it was.

Admittedly, the production doesn’t directly address the pedophilia allegations – two sexual abuse lawsuits against the musician are currently moving, albeit very slowly, through the courts – and perhaps a musical could never tackle the legal and moral complexities that come with discussing these allegations accompanied. But Nottage’s portrait of Jackson, which accompanies the singer during rehearsals for his wildly extravagant “1992.” Dangerous Tour never shows him as the superhero he dresses up as on stage.

Disgruntled MTV documentarian Rachel (Philippa Stefani), tasked with making a film about Jackson’s creative process, weaves her way through the lithe dancers, complaining that she can’t understand the star without more access to his carefully hidden private life. Nottage may have been briefed to focus on Jackson’s musical prowess and personal struggles, but her script’s greatest strength is the way it exposes Jackson through its songs, showing him increasingly dancing to the rhythms of past traumas .

Flashbacks to Michael’s terrible childhood show his father Joseph (Ashley Zhangazha) training the Jackson 5 like circus animals: when he claps, they cringe. He makes fun of his little son’s skin color and nose. And while the children struggle through their hundredth take, he strokes young Motown employees. Michael’s success relies on the adult pain and self-loathing that fills his voice as the group performs their childish numbers. And even when he finally breaks free, his parents are still in the foreground, and director Christopher Wheeldon lets them merge like ghosts among the crowds of altar boys.

As the adult MJ, Myles Frost moves with a dreamy, fantastically eerie ease, whether he’s moonwalking, pranking everyone by disguising himself as a janitor, or advising his business manager to take out a mortgage on Neverland Ranch. sprayed with a water gun. He’s now the leader of his own circus, and after sacrificing his childhood and health (sustaining terrible burns in a stage accident) for someone else’s dream, he’s unwilling to compromise ever again – whatever the financial or moral consequences .

A spectacular second act number, masterfully choreographed by Wheeldon, finds MJ in a duet with dance greats like Fred Astaire and Bob Fosse, iron perfectionism drilled into every bone of his body (one misstep and he’d be another black man condemned to life if). he is working on one). factory production line, his father always told him).

Every song here has a message: In a sober scene, MJ’s family swirls around him, singing “Money” as they force their reluctant cash cow back onto the stage. In an extravagant production of “Thriller,” MJ is threatened by zombies wearing Afro wigs and sequins from his Motown childhood. Derek McLane’s incredibly lavish scenic design and a consistently strong cast capture the stratospheric ambition of a singer who wanted to be a spaceman, a superhero, an alien.

Off the Wall: Commendable design and ensemble work combine to create a dreamlike world with Jackson at the center

(Johan Persson)

Of course MJ was all too human. “Who is this family he wants to take on tour with him?” asks a confused crew member in one of the musical’s regular references to the looming abuse scandal. These nods are all too easily drowned out by this show’s frenetic whirlwind of choreography and singing, but there’s still enough darkness here to tarnish MJ’s over-exploited fame.

Prince Edward Theatre, until September 2024

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