It is not a clean musical.
The problems over at “MJ: The Musical,” the new exhibit about Michael Jackson that opened Tuesday evening on Broadway, are a great deal more substantial than the controversy surrounding its matter — though the two are carefully related.
Though the lifeless script is written by Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage of “Ruined,” the pat dialogue feels as if it was co-authored by a law firm for the Jackson estate — one particular of the producers — with Wite-Out and a Sharpie.
Operating time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, with 1 intermission. Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.
When Michael (Myles Frost, wonderful) isn’t speaking in hokey motivational phrases — “An elephant is normally prepared to go because he sleeps standing up” — he’s providing imprecise p.r. statements of innocence about unspecified infractions.
“No subject what I do, it often will get twisted,” he states to an MTV documentarian (Whitney Bashor) for the duration of the 1992 rehearsals for his “Dangerous” tour, in which “MJ” is established. What he’s referring to is the “Wacko Jacko” nickname newspapers gave the singer — who died in 2009 — because of his frequently bizarre conduct.
No allegations of sexually abusing kids had been brought against Jackson until Jordy Chandler did so in 1993 (the situation was settled for $23 million). So those regular slumber events with 8-yr-olds at the house of the world’s most famous gentleman that the press so “twisted” do not occur up in the musical. Fine.
Nonetheless, the singer keeps decrying “the consistent sounds, the media, the lies.”
Michael complains to MTV about journalists and to his business supervisor about tour costs. He lists off his charity get the job done (once more, legal professionals), giggles a great deal, takes painkillers and tells his dancers to do better. Then the cast performs a different number in workout clothes.
We learn up coming to very little about a deeply intriguing figure other than a floor-degree assessment of his complicated childhood in the course of the Jackson Five times with monster father Joe Jackson (Quentin Earl Darrington, who also performs tour supervisor Rob) and how that educated his tireless really worth ethic.
In skipping more than the most spectacular areas of his lifestyle, Nottage seeks to disconnect the artist from the artwork. That’s been productively accomplished in advance of with Jackson: in Cirque du Soleil’s music-centric clearly show “Michael Jackson: One” in Las Vegas and “Thriller” in London.
Focusing on his outstanding music is the correct tack. Who doesn’t appreciate Jackson’s catalog? I unquestionably do. “Thriller” and “Billie Jean” are in the exhibit, along with some 30 other individuals, these types of as “Beat It,” “Smooth Criminal” and “Don’t Halt ’til You Get Enough.” So, make them explode off the stage.
But “MJ,” directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, does not match or seriously approach the energy of the King of Pop, who was an unparalleled reside performer. The rehearsal-home setting and narrative randomness, particularly in the winding 2nd act, tamps down the concert power.
Which is not the fault of Frost, the absurdly talented newcomer who captures Jackson’s voice and physicality nicely. On the opposite, we come to feel fortunate to be witnessing the birth of a new Broadway star. The similar is legitimate of the superb Tavon Olds-Sample as “Thriller”-era Michael who, beaming, transports us again to the 1980s, even when the creation all over the actor does not. As mom Katherine Jackson, Ayana George has the show’s most effective musical second when she duets on “I’ll Be There” with her son.
All, nevertheless, are hobbled by an indecisive script — the documentary plot and backstory are clumsily combined, and the cartoonish characters are straight outta “Scooby-Doo” — and very low-power, unattractive staging.
Derek McLane’s sets are mainly gray, just like these of Wheeldon’s “An American in Paris,” possibly to allow for the dancing to pop against them. Doesn’t function. Michael wears black and white a large amount much more often than purple, and the colorlessness of the phase flatters no one.
The 1 flicker of Jackson’s (and Wheeldon’s) genius comes before Michael performs “Smooth Criminal,” when stand-ins for Bob Fosse, Fred Astaire and the Nicholas Brothers get the phase, and we see how all those icons effects Michael’s motion.
The sequence is novel, invigorating and good — precisely what the rest of “MJ” isn’t.