Myles Frost shines as Michael Jackson in MJ the Musical.
MJ opens with a pre-show with actors in an industrial rehearsal space, stretching, warming up vocals, and reviewing staging for the 1992 Dangerous Tour. In walks Myles Frost (the eldest version of MJ), and MJ’s onstage tour camp is just as stunned as we are in the audience. Between the introduction of “Beat It” playing and Frost gliding to the front of the stage, the excitement from the crowd fits the picture of a live Michael Jackson performance!
All the rehearsal steps and pieces begin to come together as we catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Michael’s creative vision, which seems to be the thesis of the show. The script, by Lynn Nottage, details early on that the musical will be strictly about Michael Jackson’s music except when we watch him navigate stardom, relive the trauma, and depict his personal brand of perfectionism.
The Man in the Mirror is obviously the actor, Myles Frost with his mesmerizing impersonation, that at times feels like we’re watching the King of Pop himself. He not only resembles MJ, with the help of Paul Tazewell (costume design), Charles LaPointe (wig and hair design), Rich + Tone Talauega (Michael Jackson movement), but he fiercely embodies the mannerisms, and embraces MJ’s cadences as if they were his own. With every spin, high kick, moonwalk, and robotic step, Frost commands the stage with an intimate focus on the true intentionality behind Michael’s creative imagination.
Throughout the show, MJ is building a tour and responding to the reporters (played by Whitney Bashor and Gabriel Ruiz) who are documenting the whole thing. The storyline moves swiftly, weaving in and out of Michael Jackson’s past and present (the musical is set in 1992 during the Dangerous World Tour) with his smashing hits and the influences behind them. There are three versions of MJ: Christian Wilson (who plays the younger, hopeful Little Michael), Tavon Olds-Sample (the ambitious teen/early 20s version), and Myles Frost (as the “current” Michael).
Other cast members double (and some triple), juggling the roles as tour dancers/vocalists and iconic cameos: James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Bob Fosse, Quincy Jones, members of the Jackson Five, etc. with Quentin Earl Darrington (as Rob/Joseph Jackson), Antoine L. Smith (as Nick, Berry Gordy, Don Cornelius, Doctor), and Ayana George (as Kate, Katherine Jackson).
While MJ is constantly haunted by this philosophy, “one misstep and you crumble to the bottom,” the flashbacks reveal the genesis of his life experiences and how they trigger his artistic engine through pain and perseverance. There is a special power between all three versions of MJs, under Christopher Wheeldon’s brilliant direction (and choreography) and careful blending, like the moment Ayana George (Katherine Jackson) is singing “I’ll Be There” with Little Michael (Christian Wilson), who transforms into Myles Frost’s version. The harmony is tight, the passion is deep, and the melody is sweet through the lyrics, “I’ll reach out my hand to you…”
Derek McLane (scenic design), Natasha Katz (lighting design), Peter Nigrini (projection design), Gareth Owen (sound design), Jason Michael Webb (music direction), David Holcenberg (orchestration and arrangements) all work together to bring MJ’s iconic moments to the forefront of remembrance. They use recognizable backdrops, familiar awards moments and performances, with smart use of flashing lights, transitions, and a montage of hits to take us through the King of Pop’s musical eras.
Although the show moonwalks over the controversies, there are still some revelations by the end, especially when Michael is chatting with the reporter about the pressure of every moment of his life on display. The near-end breakthrough is that no one has ever been in his position as far as fame, stardom, and popularity, including his act of “tearing the white walls down,” musical accomplishments, and revolutionary charity work.
“No matter what I do, it always gets twisted,” is a line MJ speaks in the beginning and then the question is, whether or not MJ’s life can exist separate from his music. I feel it is answered with the single thought, his life was music. And if you’re lucky enough to see this production, you’ll have a chance to witness the music in the mirror.
MJ the Musical is now open at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway. For tickets, click here.