Review: MJ THE MUSICAL at KC Music Hall

Michael Jackson Is Almost Resurected

By: May. 08, 2024
Review: MJ THE MUSICAL at KC Music Hall
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A super performance from the first national touring company of MJ THE MUSICAL opened Tuesday evening at the Kansas City Music Hall for a one-week residency through Sunday.  MJ is a biographical treatment of the life and works of singer and dancer Michael Jackson.  MJ THE MUSICAL is a juke box musical with the full cooperation and approval of the Michael Jackson estate.

Michael Jackson is played Roman Banks with a spot-on almost miraculous personification of the King of Pop.  The dancing, the voice, the persona.  They are all there.  Banks offers a remarkable performance.  

Review: MJ THE MUSICAL at KC Music Hall The setting is a rehearsal hall in 1992.  It is the height of MJs renown and musical powers.  Michael is deep in his creative process for his “Dangerous” tour. Michael is a perfectionist.  No matter how well a production number plays, Michael imagines a way to improve on what he has created. 

The initial conflict of the show revolves around the expensive changes Michael keeps making to the almost finished tour product.  At the same time, MJ has turned to pain-killing drugs after an accidental pyrotechnic mishap while filming a Pepsi commercial.  Those in his close circle are concerned that the drugs and creative pressures will cause a physical breakdown.

Times and tastes are changing.  Michael is on a kind of hamster wheel of creativity struggling to keep up and surpass what he perceives other performers are giving audiences.  Michael Jackson suffered from extreme shyness.  At this point in his life, he had not granted an interview for fourteen years.  Michael is convinced to agree to access of the rehearsal space by a two-person documentary crew from MTV.  The interview is the theatrical device through which the audience surveys Jackson’s life.

Review: MJ THE MUSICAL at KC Music Hall

A series of flashbacks show us the beginnings of the Jackson 5.   We see how hard the boys were driven and even the brutality of Father Joe Jackson.   Barry Gordy of legendary Motown Records picks up the act and makes them stars. Later Michael begins a collaboration with Quincy Jones before starting out on his own.  We finally find ourselves back in the rehearsal hall with the “Dangerous” Tour about to start.

This is a super cast.  In this cast we actually have three Michael Jacksons.  Banks is the adult Michael. Brandon Lee Harris is a teen/young adult Michael. Michael as a child is played by either Josiah Benson or Bane Griffith.  All are excellent. The documentarian Rachel is played by Mary Kater Moore.  The rest of the cast plays multiple parts.  Outstanding recognition must go to the ensemble of this show.  The dancers are incredible.  MJ is not an easy show.  These folks are in for a super work-out each night.  

Review: MJ THE MUSICAL at KC Music Hall

The music is the lifework of Michael Jackson.  The libretto is by Lynn Nottage. Something over twenty-five of Jackson’s songs are featured.  Scenic design is by Derek McLane.  Sound is by Gareth Owen. Projection design by Peter Nigrini. Direction and Choreography by Christoper Wheeldon

Reviews in New York were mixed.  Audiences disagreed.  They absolutely loved this show.  It is a music video spectacle.  The life story of Michael is an excuse to revisit his music and his iconic dance numbers.  The producers have done a remarkable job of capturing the heart of the thing.  In this case, I suspect the music video aspect is enough.  And these folks are excellent doing it.  Our opening night audience cheered.  If you get the chance to see this our I completely suggest you do so.

All the music is there.  I had forgotten how much recognizable music there was. Tunes include “Beat It” “Shout,” “I Can’t Help It,” “Billie Jean,” “Thriller,” and “Man In the Mirror.”

It is a joyous entertainment.  I remember Michael as a little boy.  Michael Jackson passed away fifteen years ago under questionable circumstances. He would have just qualified for Social Security at sixty-five. I ran across an article online where Michael’s three children, Prince, Paris, and Bigi celebrated the landmark birthday with the rest of the family.  Michael Jackson on Social Security. Can that even be possible?

MJ THE MUSICAL runs at the Kansas City Music Hall through Sunday May 12. Tickets are available online at or by telephone at 816.421.7500.

Photos by Mathew Murphy-Murphymade



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