REVIEW: “MJ the Musical”: Visually Stunning Theatrical Memento

MJ the Musical is a tribute to the artistic force-of-nature that was Michael Jackson, filled with jaw-dropping musical numbers and stunning visuals.

Review by Nathan Top

What is the most important moment of a life? When telling an autobiographical story on a monumental figure, that question is one from which everything else sprouts, revealing a web of a life that an audience can internalize, empathize, and, ultimately, enjoy. MJ the Musical is a reminder of the star that Michael Jackson was, with the gravity of the musical world revolving around him. 

What to Expect from MJ the Musical

With a score of 25 hits from Michael Jackson’s discography and book written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, MJ the Musical is a biographical overview of the life of Michael Jackson. Told through a series of flashbacks leading up to his 1992 Dangerous World Tour, the narrative gives an overview of his childhood, development, and pivotal creative moments that led to Jackson becoming the “King of Pop.” MJ is a crowd-pleasing concert of a show and winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Actor and Best Choreography. 

Production Team Delivers

Spectacle is definitely the core of this production. Director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon squeezes as much empathy as the story will muster while, at the same time, honing in on the elaborate musical numbers reminiscent of Jackson’s own musical visions. As magnetic and haunted as Michael Jackson was, Nottage’s script remains surprisingly thin on plot and character arc, instead showcasing more of a scrapbook of moments in MJ’s life. Despite this, there are beautiful moments sprinkled amidst the layerless cake of the story. Wheeldon’s choreography is simultaneously fresh and nostalgic, the highlight of the musical numbers.

Visually, the show is captivating. Scenic designer Derek McLane and lighting designer Natasha Katz have built a bright, colorful, and nuanced world that flows seamlessly between the story’s past and present.  Costume designer Paul Tazewell, wig and hair designer Charles G. LaPointe, and make-up designer Joe Dulude II have outdone themselves adorning the cast to look like their real-life counterparts. 

Amazing Leads

Roman Banks looks, sounds, and moves like MJ. Beyond merely impersonating the role, Banks has captured some of the energy and emotion that made MJ, to the point that it is almost jarring when he first enters the stage. His presence commands the audience’s attention for the entire two-and-a-half hour show, with minimal rest between numbers and scenes for the lead. His rendition of “Thriller” is as appropriately eerie and entrancing as you would expect. 

Devin Bowles is a worthy antagonist as MJ’s father, Joseph, while doubling as the King of Pop’s dutiful production manager, Rob. Banks and Bowles drive the drama, their conflict and chemistry the most palpable of the show. Brandon Lee Harris as Michael and Ethan Joseph as Little Michael showcase their incredible vocal and dancing chops on several Jackson 5 and The Jacksons soul and disco numbers. 

Roman Banks as Michael Jackson in MJ The Musical.
Roman Banks as Michael Jackson in MJ The Musical. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Showstopping Numbers

An early showstopper of the show was a heartbreaking and hopeful duet between Little Michael (Joseph) and MJ’s mother, Katherine (Anastasia Talley) on “I’ll Be There.” Between Wheeldon’s choreography and Victor Simonson’s musical direction, the ensemble is a tightly run machine, flowing between roles and scenes, making for a large, seamless world. 

Get Tickets to MJ The Musical

MJ the Musical is a tribute to the artistic force-of-nature that was Michael Jackson, filled with jaw-dropping musical numbers and stunning visuals.

Running now through September 17th, tickets can be purchased here.

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