Review: MJ: THE MUSICAL, Prince Edward Theatre

The Tony winning musical transfers to London until December

By: Mar. 27, 2024
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Review: MJ: THE MUSICAL, Prince Edward Theatre
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MJ The MusicalAt its best MJ: the Musical is a tribute act populated by a mixtape of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits and the signature silky angularity of his choreography. At its worst this slathered-in-schmaltz hagiography is like watching the Zone of Interest: you know the disturbing stuff is always just out of view.

Set in the Dangerous World Tour rehearsal room in 1992 where a prying MTV crew invite Jackson to reminisce on his journey, flashbacks of MJ’s life story are seamlessly stitched through song to give us a whistle stop tour of his troubled childhood on stage.

But a musical cannot live on music alone. Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Lynn Nottage, pens a syrupy story heavily reliant on the doubling of MJ’s stern father Joseph and his present-day manager Rob, both played by a mercurial Ashley Zhangazha. Jackson is a perpetual victim at the hands of financially ravenous record producers or the vampiric media. All he wants to do is "Keep the Faith" and "Heal the World". Some musicals are pure escapism: step inside and forget your problems. Here you forget Jackson’s problems too. Or at least his estate wants you to.

There’s nothing wrong with milking the nostalgia cow for some cash (vis-a-vis ABBA Voyage) and providing some fan service. But it’s difficult to ignore the lingering sense that this is two and a half hours of propaganda vindicating Jackson of any reputational stains that might damage his highly lucrative legacy.

MJ The Musical

For example. Why is it set in the halcyon days of 1992? Because a year later Jackson faced the first accusation of child molestation. A case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. He faced further allegations of child sexual abuse but was acquitted on all counts in 2005. The creative team hurl flashing lights and sequinned pageantry at the audience in the hope that you’ll forget all that.

Fleeting references to always ambiguous “allegations” are conspicuously brushed away by eye-popping spectacle. English choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and Myles Frost, who won a Tony for the role stateside, capture Jackson’s punchy physicality and walking on air ethereality down to a tee. The ensemble are excellent performers, but Myles’ half mumbled acting leaves a lot to be desired. Then again, Jackson was a one in a kind performer. Playing him is a Herculean task.

Because the story is so mind-numbingly one dimensional it’s only any real fun when it goes full groin grabbing wacko. An interminably slovenly start to the second act is saved by a megawatt Thriller number reinvented with MJ’s father as the something evil lurking in the dark - a Voodoo Witch Doctor (why not?) pulling the strings over Michael. Let the full throttle spectacle of the absurdity of it all wash over you. Exit the King of Pop.

MJ: The Musical plays at the Prince Edward Theatre until 7 December

Photo Credits: Johan Persson