REVIEW: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ with “MJ the Musical”

From the high energy choreography to the strong vocals, this is a show that’s sure to entertain anyone who is a fan of the King of Pop. 

By Ariel Mary Ann

This week, the smash hit Broadway show, MJ the Musical, opened in Cincinnati at the Aronoff. Featuring direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, the book is by the award winning Lynn Nottage. This lively show takes audiences into the world of Michael Jackson during the creation of his 1992 Dangerous world tour featuring his biggest hits.

Strong Performances

Before the show even starts, various characters make their way onto the stage helping to build up the world of MJ. Once the show starts, MJ, (Roman Banks) enters the room and we find him completely in his element as opens the show with Beat It

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

At one point – one of the characters introduces themselves as Rachel (Mary Kate Moore) a journalist from MTV wanting to highlight MJ’s creative process as well as his life. 

Through talking with Rachel and her cameraman, Alejandro (Da’von T. Moody), MJ opens up about his difficult upbringing and his strained relationship with his father, Joe Jackson (Devin Bowles). 

It becomes very evident that MJ’s need for perfection stems from the pressure placed on him at the hands of his father, Joe. Bowles gave a very strong performance portraying MJ’s manager, Rob, and his father. The strong chemistry between Bowles and Banks helps in giving the audience permission to feel empathy for Little Michael (Josiah Benson).

MJ the Musical
Little Michael (Josiah Benson) and Katherine (Anastasia Talley) in MJ the Musical.

After opening on Broadway this past May, respected theatre critic, Ayanna Prescod offered her thoughts via The New York Theatre Guide saying “Nottage’s brilliant book gives the character of Jackson depth” After watching the national tour last night, I have to agree. 

Dynamic Relationships in MJ the Musical

With many jukebox musicals, there is more of a hyper focus on music than the book of the show. However with MJ, the music doesn’t tell the entire story and instead uses songs such as I’ll Be There and Keep the Faith as a vehicle to convey the emotional highs and lows of MJ’s life. In a scene between Little Michael (Benson) and his mother, Katherine (Anastasia Talley), Katherine comforts Little Michael (Talley) after he gets berated by his father. I’ll Be There becomes a musical theatre song moment that sets the tone for the relationship dynamic between Little Michael and his mother. 

MJ the Musical doesn’t shy away from confronting audiences with the reality of being Black in America: many Black people in this country work twice as hard to get the same respect as white people.

Bottom Line

Overall, the entire cast and company does a phenomenal job. From the high energy choreography to the strong vocals, this is a show that’s sure to entertain anyone who finds themselves a fan of the King of Pop. 

Get your Tickets to MJ the Musical

MJ the Musical runs from September 5th to the 17th as part of the 2023/2024 Broadway in Cincinnati season. Tickets can be found here.


2hrs, 30mins with 1 intermission.

Recommended For

Recommended for ages 8 and up.

Ariel Mary Ann is a Cincinnati based theatre artist, a musical theatre aficionado and a proud Black woman. You can find her at various shows around town. Give her a follow on IG @thelittleblackmermaid_

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