Now playing at The Pantages in Hollywood, through January 2024, is a dazzling stage show that features recreations of some of the most memorable songs of Michael Jackson’s storied career. With a plotline that bounces from the present day to the early days of young Jackson’s career, the show mainly takes us through the preparations for the Dangerous World Tour that Michael Jackson and his dancers are about to embark upon, providing an in-depth look at the legendary artist’s creative process.
MJ is a juke-box musical that features recreations of Jackson’s music with a book by American playwright and two time Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama, Lynn Nottage, teamed with superb choreography by Christopher Wheeldon.
Photo above: Jaylen Lyndon Hunter as ‘Little Marlon’ Ethan Joseph as ‘Little Michael’ and the cast of the MJ First National Tour. Photo by: Matthew Murphy.
The show kicks off with a bang, jumping right into a slick rehearsal of the hit tune “Beat It,” which springs to life as soon as Michael (played brilliantly by Roman Banks) enters a stage full of dancers warming up. Upstage, the live band are rocking out throughout the evening (although the band is trucked offstage and perform out of view for most of the show).
Inhabiting the central role, Banks does a fantastic impersonation of legendary ‘King of Pop’ – both vocally as well as expertly executing all of MJ’s signature dance moves. Banks captures Jackson’s voice, mannerisms, and spirit, without resorting to imitation or caricature.
Banks is known for his performances in Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen and “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” and he will play the title role of ‘MJ’ throughout the show’s multi-city run. Joining him in the First National Tour cast will be Jamaal Fields-Green as MJ – Alternate.
The Dangerous World Tour was the second world concert tour by American singer Michael Jackson to promote his eighth studio album Dangerous.
By positioning the present-day story in early 1992 – just before the Dangerous World Tour – the show neatly side-steps any mention of scandal, such as the numerous accusations of pedophilia that Michael Jackson faced later in his career. Instead, there is more focus on Jackson and his creative vision, his extraordinary skill, his money troubles associated with the ambitious staging of his monster world tour, and also the abuse he received at the hands of his father during his formative years. More so Michael Jackson the victim, than MJ the monster…
A respectful homage to a legendary artist, the musical celebrates the life and legacy of the King of Pop.
MJ does not attempt to be a typical biographical musical. It certainly doesn’t try to cover every aspect of Jackson’s lengthy career, nor does it shy away from some of the controversies that surrounded him. Rather, the show focuses on the creative process behind the making of the 1992 Dangerous World Tour, one of the most ambitious and successful tours in pop history. Through a series of scenes, interspersed with flashbacks to his earlier career, we see how Jackson collaborated with his team of musicians, dancers, choreographers, and designers to create a show that went on to dazzle the world.
The musical is directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, a Tony Award-winning artist who has worked with some of the most esteemed ballet companies in the world. Wheeldon brings his expertise and vision to MJ, creating spectacular dance numbers that showcase Jackson’s signature moves and style. The musical features some of Jackson’s most iconic songs, such as “Billie Jean,” “Thriller,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Black or White,” and “Man in the Mirror,” as well as some lesser-known tunes, including “They Don’t Care About Us”, “Will You Be There,” and “Earth Song.”
The supporting cast is as impressive as the show’s magnetic star, featuring talented singers, dancers, and actors who bring Jackson’s world to life. One of the standout performers is Devin Bowles as Jackson’s production manager Rob, at times turning on a dime to also play MJ’s overbearing and abusive father Joseph Jackson. The ensemble is also amazing, playing multiple roles and executing Wheeldon’s choreography with precision and energy.
The band, led by music director Jason Michael Webb, is another highlight of the show. Taut and skilled, the band play Jackson’s songs with flair, creating a live concert atmosphere that makes the audience feel like they are part of the show.
MJ is a lively and dynamic musical that celebrates Michael Jackson’s legacy as an entertainer, and pop idol.
NOW PLAYING at The Pantages Theater in Hollywood for a limited six-week engagement, through January 28, 2024.