MJ The Musical at The Prince Edward Theatre

MJ The Musical feels like it has been a long time coming to the West End, the show was due to open on Broadway in 2020 but due to Covid it opened in 2021 and it was announced that it was coming to the to West End was made back in October 2022. Some 18 months after the announcement I have finally been able to see what everyone has been talking about.

The show is a jukebox musical which is set on the eve of Michael Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous World Tour. The audience, along with journalists Rachel and Alejandro are let into the rehearsal room for the tour as Michael recounts his childhood including his strained relationship with his father, his challenges as being accepted as a black artist in the mainstream and his demands for the tour itself.

There is of course the question about if a musical should even be made about Michael Jackson and in a biopic how do you avoid talking about the allegations that plagued his career. The timing of when the show is set is therefore incredibly relevant as the allegations about his inappropriate relationship with children don’t come to the fore until the Dangerous Tour has started. Other issues are mentioned such as his drug addiction and questions about his skin lightening but these seem to pale into insigifnace with this omission. As to if it is right to make a musical about him…that is probably a bigger topic and one that I will let you make your own minds up on.

Many of Jackson’s numbers were used chronologically and a large part of Act 1 dedicated to the music of the Jackson 5 and Jackson’s earlier solo career. Whilst these help with the backstory of MJ it is the huge production numbers that leave the mark on the show. Act 1 closed with a rendition of ‘Earth Song/ They Don’t Really Care About Us,’ to huge applause and the opening of Act 2 including Billie Jean and Smooth Criminal had a similar impact. As Act 2 progressed the ante felt like it was being raised until the incredible Thriller/ Man In The Mirror moment. These production numbers were teamed with huge technical effects, lighting and video projections combined with the performances themselves left the audience in awe.

With the production numbers being the moments that the audience, myself included, were anticipating it did mean that some of the backstory felt like filler before the next hit came along but some may say that’s a testament to the strength of the music, others may say its a sign of weakness of the book by Lynn Nottage.

The cast across the whole of the show is brimming with talent. Kwame Kandekore (normally the standby for MJ) took on the role and he captured MJ’s cadence, stance and moves. Its a credit to him that he is able to perform this role less than 2 weeks after opening night in a show that marks his adult West End debut.

2 other actors play Michael at various ages with Mitchell Zhangazha as Michael in his younger adult life and Elliott Mugume playing an adorable little MJ. Zhangazha perfectly captured a more youthful naivety in Michael and the switches from Zhangazha to Kandekore were seamless in their interpretations of him.

The show however is clever in how it doubles up on some of the roles, Ashley Zhangazha takes on the roles of 2 important men in Michael’s life, his director Rob and his father Joseph, hammering home just how Michael’s childhood and his tumultuous relationship with his father has impacted on his ability to deal with others in authority. Ashley ensures that whilst we can decipher who he is portraying at that moment in time that we also see the parallels between them.

The choreography by Christopher Wheeldon is sublime and the whole cast perform it with energy and flair. Wheeldon manages to strike the balance of paying homage to the dance styles that Jackson was so famous for and it being era appropriate whilst it feeling current.

Whilst MJ The Musical fails to delve below the surface of the man in the mirror it is the perfect show to see if you want to see a spectacle, a glittering portrayal of some of the best music in pop.

To book tickets for MJ The Musical and to find out more visit their website.

If you like this review you might also like my review of Hadestown, Moulin Rouge and Operation Mincemeat.

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