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Review - MJ

Prince Edward Theatre

Booking until 7th December 2024




Photo credit: Johan Persson

Review

Focusing on the creative ventures of Michael Jackson, MJ (Myles Frost), in the brief period leading up to his second world concert tour, Dangerous, in 1992, this musical gives a snippet of the titular character’s struggles during the rehearsals and as he relives the memories that shaped him as an artist.

 

The musical opens strong with “Beat it”, setting the stage with ample energy and fuels the audience’s enthusiasm. This is followed by a Jackson 5 medley, igniting the attention of avid fans of the King of Pop with both his popular hits as a solo artist and those from his younger days. MJ is portrayed as a tortured artist, aiming for ever higher and grander goals, with more glamorous sets, dangerous stunts and spiralling out of control costs added each day. MJ is backed up on stage by a fantastic cast of swings, providing supporting vocals and dance routines, complementing MJ’s every move. They are also joined by a MTV presenter, Rachel (Philippa Stefani) and her camera man, Alejandro (Matt Gonsalves) to capture MJ’s journey ahead of the first performance in Munich.

 

Rather than purely pinning the narrative on MJ’s music, which is what he and his tour team intended, Rachel seeks to get something juicier, including MJ’s addiction problem to pain killers and why he appears to grow paler over time. During this process, MJ relives his past with members of his family and his problematic past with his father, Joseph Jackson (Ashley Zhangazha). However, this is the extent of this story’s narrative, choosing to be dragged in two different directions, the artistic side of MJ and gossips surrounding him, neither of which were that well explored or impactful. In fact, I felt both of these were sidelined during the course of the show.

 

The major constraint of this story is that it ultimately finishes with the opening of the Dangerous Tour. Given the extremely narrow period contained within this plot, the excitement that comes with discovering what the future holds with the character is also limited given that we know the tour was a success. In addition, the entirety of Act I and much of Act II take place in what appears to be different corners of the rehearsal room, with the odd set changes to reflect the parts where MJ relives and bears witness to his own past. This rather static approach adds little to the overall tonal shift and contrast between the scenes. However, elements of the scenic and lighting design by Derek Mclane and Natash Katz, respectively, do work well with this story, particularly when the background is transformed into a shattered glass to portray MJ’s psyche.

 

Given the time period this show covers, child abuse allegations that came during the Dangerous Tour appears to be something that could have added more content and potentially, even a satisfying ending. This however, was left completely untouched. I am not particularly fixated on the inclusion of this and perfectly happy for this omission if the creatives were able to further capitalise on the untapped potential to further explore what Neverland meant to MJ, his struggles to mortgage it to pay for the tour, and the length he was willing to go to in order to ensure the Tour’s success. Instead, this element of the plot is neither developed nor interesting enough to act as a pivot.  

 

Despite the disappointing story, the performance is top notch and a fantastic show if it is viewed as a concert piece with behind-the-scenes. Myles Frost perfectly captures the demeanour and becomes the personification of MJ, treating the audience with a first-class showmanship that recapitulates the peaks of MJ himself. Similarly, Mitchell Zhangazha who portrays a younger Michael also showcases his talents and his take on this character.

 

MJ the musical can be considered a phenomenal show, but only when it is viewed as an extended live concert with snippets of insights into its inner workings in my opinion. As a staged musical, it is lacking the fundamental elements in its story to create the necessary excitement without becoming overly reliant on nostalgia.

 

Creatives

Book: Lynn Nottage

Director and Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon

Music Supervision, Orchestration and Arrangements: David Holcenberg

Orchestration and Arrangements: Jason Michael Webb

UK Musical Director: Sean Green

Producers: Lia Vollack, John Branca, Michael David

UK Executive Producer: Nia Janis

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