Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of MJ THE MUSICAL in the West End?

The Tony-Award wining show has arrived in London

By: Mar. 28, 2024
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Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of MJ THE MUSICAL in the West End?
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The multi-Tony Award®- winning musical MJ has now opened at the Prince Edward Theatre.

Starring Myles Frost, MJ is centred around the making of Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous World Tour. Going beyond his singular moves and signature sound, it offers a rare look at the creative mind and collaborative spirit that catapulted him into legendary status.

Created by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage and Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, this new musical features some of the most iconic songs in music history, including Billie Jean, Beat It. Man in the Mirror, and Smooth Criminal.

What did the critics think?

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of MJ THE MUSICAL in the West End? Alexander Cohen, BroadwayWorld.com: 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.

Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of MJ THE MUSICAL in the West End? Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage: It’s a sophisticated take on a jukebox musical, staged by Wheeldon with such energy and panache that the trajectory is breathtaking, scenes folding in and out of each other seamlessly. One particularly vivid sequence, for example, sweeps us from a disco party of celebration into the shapes and atmosphere of “Thriller”, complete with the press corps as the zombies and Jackson’s father Joseph as chief villain, into Jackson’s triumphant night at the 1984 Grammys, when he swept the board.

Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of MJ THE MUSICAL in the West End? Claire Alfree, The Telegraph: Yet many of the details of Jackson’s sad, strange, entirely tragic story are both well known and impossible to view today entirely outside the prism of the allegations that dogged the last two decades of his life. MJ The Musical is not exactly an apologia, but while it refuses to indulge the tabloid image of Jackson as a freak, it’s arguably guilty of magical thinking in casting him exclusively as a victim. But does this make his art – as so beautifully honoured here – any less intoxicating? I’m not sure in the end it does.

Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of MJ THE MUSICAL in the West End? Alice Saville, The Independent: Admittedly, the production doesn’t directly tackle the paedophilia accusations – two sexual abuse lawsuits against the musician are currently making their way, albeit very slowly, through the courts – and perhaps a musical could never tackle the legal and moral complexities of discussing them. But Nottage’s portrait of Jackson, which follows the singer in rehearsals for his wildly extravagant 1992 Dangerous tour, never depicts him as the superhero he dresses up as on stage, either.

Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of MJ THE MUSICAL in the West End? Anya Ryan, The Guardian: A musical recounting Jackson’s fame was always going to face an awkward challenge. First, there is the issue that every jukebox musical encounters: how to squeeze well-known songs into a succinct narrative? Then there is the itch to say something fresh about a figure who was a global phenomenon, yet also notoriously enigmatic. But these problems pale in comparison to the issue of Jackson’s own legacy. He was always a man of mystery and a deeply controversial one at that. Since the harrowing 2019 HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, it is hard to ignore the repeated allegations of child sexual abuse.

Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of MJ THE MUSICAL in the West End? Clive Davis, The Times: As the adult Jackson tries to perfect every routine, a cynical journalist (Philippa Stefani) hovers nearby, hoping to pick up titbits of gossip. But while we get fleeting references to painkillers, nose jobs and the skin condition vitiligo, the dance sequences assume priority. It will take another, much more candid show to tell the full story of this very American tragedy.

Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of MJ THE MUSICAL in the West End? Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, Financial Times: A more challenging staging might have taken this hinge point in his life — at the peak of fame, yet on the verge of a controversy that would torpedo his reputation — and made something interesting from it. But unsurprisingly that isn’t the Jackson estate’s ambition for MJ the Musical. Despite its pedigree — the book is by playwright Lynn Nottage, the only woman to win two Pulitzer prizes for drama, while ballet eminence Christopher Wheeldon is director and choreographer — the production’s main rationale is to get as many songs on the jukebox as possible. Cue ecstatic applause for “Thriller”, “Billie Jean” etc. 

Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of MJ THE MUSICAL in the West End?
Average Rating: 57.1%


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