MJ The Musical review: This slick and spectacular Thriller gives the fans what they want | Theatre | Entertainment

A man in a blinding gold reflective jacket. A silhouette in white shirt, black cropped trousers, white socks and fedora. A sequinned white glove. A funky baseline, shuffling beats, Hammer Horror organ chords…

Each time, the crowd screamed ever louder. Part musical, part lavish tribute jukebox, part religious experience. There were moments, briefly, when you could almost see The King of Pop right there before us, in a way the adoring legions of fans had thought they would never experience again.

So, how to review a show that sincerely and sensationally recreates and reanimates one of the greatest geniuses of modern pop culture? It delivers everything fans want. It is also a meticulously controlled message, absolutely dictated by the Jackson Estate, that gives perfunctory nods to the traumas that created and haunted the man, and never truly acknowledges the terrible shadow that hangs over his legacy.

The show is strategically set during the final rehearsals for Michael Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous Tour. The star is struggling with spiralling costs, falling album sales, painkiller addiction and a pitiless perfectionism driven by childhood trauma. He will have to mortgage his beloved Neverland to finance his dream.

Meaty stuff for a musical. But the horrors of future court cases and reputation-destroying accusations are safely still far off – only alluded to when one character asks “Who is this family he wants to bring on tour?”

Lynn Nottage’s script uses the plot device of an MTV documentary team filming the rehearsals to allow MJ to start telling his story and flashback to a childhood and youth of staggering success and equally traumatising emotional abuse from his father, who all the siblings must call Joseph. It also creates spine-tingling moments as Michael tries to explain how the music lives in and through him. 

At the show’s heart is a sensational performance by Broadway star Myles Frost who doesn’t just sing and dance in goosebumpingly glorious fashion, he also captures the breathy speaking voice, nervy skittishness and childlike playfulness of the eternal Peter Pan. It’s mesmerising.

The younger actors playing the boy and teenage incarnations are also fantastic. As, indeed, is the entire cast of singers and dancers. The talent on stage is simply breathtaking.

Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography and direction create some of the slickest set pieces I’ve seen in the West End. The showstopping reinventions of Thriller, Billie Jean or Beat It had the crowd roaring, while fantasy dance duets with Fred Astaire and Bob Fosse delight.

But there are also touching, quiet interludes when MJ croons She’s Out of My Life or duets on I’ll Be There with his mother Katherine (a powerhouse Phebe Edwards.) Except, of course, she wasn’t really…

Katherine comforts the hurting boy but also somewhat gaslights him with assurances his father’s brutality is done out of love. Together with his brothers, she later pressures him to join the 1984 Jacksons Victory Tour, even though he knew they were all using him for financial and career gains, and was also in agony from horrific burns sustained filming a Pepsi commercial.

Similar to the Jersey Boys, Tina Turner and Drifters musicals, this show dips in and out of darker truths but rarely goes deep. Instead endless treats like Can You Feel It, Blame It On The Boogie, I Want you Back, The Way You Make Me Feel and countless more whirl past. 

You must make your own judgement on who and what you believe. To properly address his final decade would require an entirely different show. This, ultimately, is a show that genuinely tries to explore what made a child able to sing with the pain and pathos of an adult, or create music and rhythms through his body and voice. If you want more, delve into the many and conflicting exhaustive documentaries and books.

The audience for this type of biopic will be overwhelmingly there to celebrate their idol and his talent, and it is really on this criteria that the show must be judged.

This is a jukebox jubilation and, as such, triumphantly succeeds in recreating a glimpse of a unique and towering talent. 


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