Review: MJ at The Paramount Theatre

A bio musical of the King of Pop comes to Seattle … kinda.

By: Dec. 08, 2023
Review: MJ at The Paramount Theatre
Review: MJ at The Paramount Theatre
Roman Banks as 'MJ' and
the cast of the MJ First National Tour.
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Dear Readers, you know I’m not a fan of the bio musical.  Very few get it right with jamming too many songs in or a bad book.  Unfortunately, “MJ” the Michael Jackson bio musical currently playing at the Paramount suffers from both of those things, and more.

We start off under the guise that we’re flies on the wall at a rehearsal for Jackson’s “Dangerous” tour.  MJ (Roman Banks) has arrived and is making more and more outrageous demands for the show.  Meanwhile, Rachel (Mary Kate Moore), a reporter from MTV, has arrived with her cameraman to do a behind the scenes piece on MJ and the tour.  And as the questions fly, we’re transported back into his past to meet Little Michael (Bane Griffith on the night I saw) and eventually Michael (a teen to young adult version of Jackson, played by Brandon Lee Harris).  And then they proceed to jam in as many songs or bits of songs as they can. And those songs are shoehorned into the moments, in an attempt to convey his story. 

The book by the incredible playwright Lynn Nottage is an embarrassment.  With forced and heavy-handed dialog, most of the impetus for the story is from the faux questions from the reporter.  At which we proceed to learn that Michael’s father Joseph (Devin Bowles) was a monster, physically and mentally abusing his kids and working them to the bone.  And we learn this about him over and over and over again.  All of this goes to paint MJ as a victim of his upbringing and attempts to justify any troublesome things he did himself, assuming we ever really talk about them at all.  They portray him as a diva, perfectionist, child but when they try and talk about anything icky, they moonwalk past it as quickly as possible.  Was he addicted to pain killers?  They’re mentioned and raced past.  What about the plastic surgery, the lightened skin, the oxygen chamber, or bubbles the chimp?  Let’s just make a joke of those and tow the company line we’ve heard for decades.  And how about any of the child molestation court cases?  Nope, never happened.  The closest they come to even looking in the direction of those is one comment of “why is this family coming on tour with us?”  A question that is never answered.  Or reporters asking him, “What about the allegations?”  Allegations of what?  That he eats his cereal with orange juice?  That he shines his shoes with pudding?  No, just “allegations” but they never identify the truly icky parts of his history.  Instead, we just talk about how everyone wants to bring him down or about how much of a monster his father was … again.

The songs are there, some of them.  As I said, they often only play snippets of the songs.  A lament, I may add, I heard a kid say in the lobby.  “It’s too long and they only play parts of the songs.”  I’m with ya, kid.  But what songs are there are performed well.  Banks certainly does a passable Jackson impression.  He’s a good singer and dancer, although kept repeating the same moves and vocal phrases no matter what song they were in.  And Banks vocal affectation for MJ’s dialog was so one note, with the same cadence throughout, that I quickly grew tired of hearing from him. 

Review: MJ at The Paramount Theatre
Roman Banks as 'MJ' and
Mary Kate Moore as 'Rachel' in
the MJ First National Tour.
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

And he’s 99% of the show.  Sure, the other Jacksons are there and a bevy of super talented ensemble dancers and singers, but the focus is always, unsurprisingly, MJ.  Even when we drift into the past, MJ (the older version) is lingering and often interacting.  And speaking of questionable interactions, I have to go back to that reporter.  Not only was she exposition girl, but they often had her singing along with MJ.  He breaks into a song to somehow convey his emotional state and she joins in.  He mentioned that when he gets stressed, he likes to imagine the world as he sees it and she can somehow see it too.  She must be the best reporter ever as apparently, she’s a mind reader.

This whole thing for me was one “what are they doing?!” after another.  I must add that most of the audience around me ate it up with a spoon and were loving every second.  But I found the glossing over of any of this flawed man’s improprieties, especially in the face of his supposed introspective 11 o’clock number “Man in the Mirror”, to be insulting and not worth the 2 and a half hours of “my dad was a monster now let’s sing one of my songs”.  And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give “MJ” at the Paramount a “we didn’t the full story” MEH-.  But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they only showed us what they did as it says very plainly in the program, “By special arrangement with the estate of Michael Jackson.”

“MJ” performs at the Paramount theatre through December 17th.  For tickets or information visit Seattle Theatre Group online at www.stgpresents.org.




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