Overview: Michael Jackson’s musical is a kind of thriller, very bad

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New, injected Broadway musical o Michael Jackson it begins with the King of Pop planning an ambitious tour to regain his throne. He faces financial ruin, swirling rumors and addiction to painkillers. You would think it was 2009, just weeks before his death. This is a logical place to start. But logic has little to do with “MJ.”

In fact, it was 1992 when Jackson began the show by entering a Los Angeles a rehearsal studio that serves as the main set of music jukebox. On the “Dangerous” tour, he gives the final touches and drills his exhausted dancers: “Do this until we clean up.”

We will soon be stepping back in time – back to Jackson 5, “Off the Wall” and “Thriller” – but never further. Why 1992? Jackson will be on the Dangerous tour a year later when he is first formally charged with harassment, a charge that will be settled. Michael on Broadway will never face this, protected forever.

This is just one very big insincere note in a totally stunning production that opened at the Neil Simon Theater on Tuesday. Like Jackson himself, there are moments of pure genius highlighted by the bizarre scratching of the head.

Jackson’s portrait is a perfectionist driven by a love of music and to offer his fans the best possible experience, no matter the price. It’s misunderstood and a little weird – shoot a spray gun during a business meeting – but harmless. Not a predator, but prey. The only thing he’s guilty of is taking too much care of his charities. “The bigger it is, the more we can give back,” he says.

This is the unusually quiet, shallow writing of playwright Lynn Nottage, someone who had previously painted a gruesome picture of a violent life in the middle of the African Civil War with “Ruined”. The approval of Michael Jackson’s estate – which is distinctly a trumpet here – is huge.

Nottage and director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon they have one of the largest music catalogs in the world, but you don’t seem to know how to handle it. Some of the key songs – like “For the Love of Money” by The O’Jays – aren’t Jackson’s at all. The vast majority of Jackson’s songs used – including “Earth Song”, “Stranger in Moscow”, “Price of Fame” and “They Don’t Care About Us” – were released after 1992. You can’t have both. .

Still, nothing should take the tireless, totally committed Myles Frost, who plays Jackson with a high, whispering voice, coquetry, like Lady Diana, and a strong embrace of Jackson’s legendary dance and singing style, all the way to rhythmic breathing and dizziness. He walks the moon insanely well.

The framing technique for this biography is invented MTV the film crew that got access to filming Jackson’s preparation for the tour, and their soft football questions are used to reflect on Jackson’s inner life, such as “Do you ever get tired of hype?” and “Forty-one million records and still count. Eight Grammys. That must feel good. ”

But even though he uses journalism for his own purposes, the script clearly hates journalists. Act I ends with Jackson at a press conference chasing him when he is crushed by tabloids dressed as extras from the movie “The Matrix” and even hinting that he is their puppet. They claim that media pressure forced him to force himself, but we also learn that he was vaccinated by his father years ago.

There are moments that reveal a potentially different show, one less overt, more elegant and impressionistic. II. the act begins with a sort of purified dream sequence of the dance, as if Wheeldon had finally taken over the project for himself. It breaks the fourth wall and is tonal like nothing else in the show.

In it, Jackson comes out alone and puts on a black jacket with sequins, a black fedora and a single white glove studded with rhinestones. She dances and sings “Billie Jean”, then soon recognizes three key inspirations – Fred Astaire, The Nicholas Brothers and Bob Fosse – and then dances with each of them and shows how much his style owes them (as Fosse’s bowler, accepted as Fedor MJ ). It’s a brilliant part of the music stage.

Other highlights include the song “I’ll Be There,” used as a duet between young Jackson (one of two young men playing Michael 8-10 is Dynamite Christian Wilson) and his mother, the wonderful Ayana George, who steals each scene), which then switches nicely to her singing with adult Michael. Berry Gordy and Michael also have a good duet, redesigned “You Can’t Win” from “The Wiz”.

Clunkers incorporate a fantastic off-the-wall sequence using “Human Nature” as Jackson takes an MTV reporter to a Hollywood character – “the way you imagine the world is so beautiful,” he sighs – and a repeat of “Thriller” that seems to suggest Jackson’s father is a demon before his son is attacked by more than a dozen Jackson’s zombies. What is explained is not clear.

Nottage only nods obliquely to the upcoming storms: Jackson cracks Demerol and disturbing accusations, including the family he wants to bring on tour. “There were some dark fights … Things I can’t …” Jackson stammered.

There are no bad guys in “MJ”. Even Jackson’s father, a demanding task manager who slaps young Michael and cheats on his mother over and over again, appears saved. “It may not seem like love, but it is,” his mom explains.

Everything is very strange, superficial, but very calculated brand labeling. But if I quote the man himself in “Scream”: “I’m tired of your storytelling / The story your way / You cause confusion / You think it’s okay.”

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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