MJ the Musical, Prince Edward Theatre, 2024
Photo: Johan Persson
  • Theatre, Musicals
  • Prince Edward Theatre, Soho
  • Recommended


MJ the Musical

3 out of 5 stars

Myles Frost is extraordinary as the King of Pop, but ultimately Michael Jackson feels too complicated a subject for a jukebox bio-musical


Time Out says

The last Michael Jackson musical to grace the West End was ‘Thriller – Live’, a revue show that was almost endearingly dumb, consisting as it did of the King of Pop’s greatest hits interspersed with a bunch of ripped men bellowing about his sales figures. 

‘MJ the Musical’ is the real deal, however, an estate-endorsed jukebox show that’s gone down a storm on Broadway. Significantly, it has a book by Lynn Nottage, one of the great American playwrights. Her text addresses aspects of Jackson’s life with a frankness that’s refreshing, if selective.

It’s set in 1992, during rehearsals for the ‘Dangerous’ world tour and handily a year before child sex abuse allegations were first levelled against Jackson. ‘MJ’ thus avoids any allusion to said controversy. At the same time, it doesn’t do that thing where it pretends there was nothing unusual about him: there are allusions to everything from Bubbles the chimp to Jackson’s changing skin colour.

 For the West End debut of Christopher Wheeldon’s production, ‘present day’ Michael is played by the jaw-droppingly talented original Broadway star Myles Frost. To say he’s a triple threat would be an understatement: in the acting department he’s maybe more of a vague menace, but as a dancer and singer he is extraordinary. Yes sir, he can moonwalk, and slip into all of Jackson’s propulsive dance routines effortlessly. His voice isn’t quite as piercing as Jackson’s, but it’s a fair approximation, and frankly remarkable given what he’s doing with his body at the same time. 

Speaking in that instantly recognisable half-whisper, Frost’s Michael is a guarded perfectionist who takes great pride in his music. But he wants his tour to be the event of the year and won’t take no for an answer with regards to any idea he has – no matter how last minute or expensive. He butts heads with his long suffering director Rob (Ashley Zhangazha) and his boring finance guy Dave (Jon Tsouras), who is clearly a bit of a douche. But it’s apparent how exasperating Jackson is being. 

And there is a clear sense that his behaviour can be traced back to Joseph, his exacting-bordering-on-abusive father – also played by Zhangazha, an intentional doubling that illustrates the older Jackson’s reluctance to do what other people tell him: he had a childhood’s worth of being ordered around. It’s not a show about Michael’s difficult upbringing; but it’s a key motif.

As is Michael’s painkiller habit. In a flashback scene – with Mitchell Zhangazha as a younger Jackson – his pill-popping is traced back to the burns he sustained making a 1984 Pepsi commercial, and the painkillers Joseph pushed his son’s way to help him get through a final Jacksons tour (that he’d browbeaten Michael into doing instead of touring ‘Thriller’). And of course, it foreshadows Michael’s death, 17 years later. 

Still, in trying to give us a somewhat unvarnished view of Jackson, the omission of any allusion to his friendships with children feels… noticeable. ‘Giving us’ his drug problems almost feels like a sop, making up for what the show doesn’t talk about. Nottage has written something infinitely superior to ‘Thriller – Live’. But there are clearly places she is not allowed to go.

Aside from that, ‘MJ’ suffers from a clunky framing device. The nominal plot is that an MTV crew has swung by rehearsals to film them and bag a rare interview with the man himself. It all feels crudely handled: presenter Rachel (Philippa Stefani) is barely a character. She gets Michael to talk about his past. But so do other people. It never feels like the journalists add much. 

Oh yeah, and there are some songs and dancing. You take it for granted that a big-budget Michael Jackson show will feature an immaculate setlist and superb choreography. And you absolutely get that in ‘MJ’, which is directed and choreographed by actual ballet legend Wheeldon. It’s somewhat retro, of course, but Jackson’s arsenal of moves were so singular – and so technically dazzling – that it doesn’t feel dated at all, especially with a leading man who can do the moves without inferring himself. The songlist is what you’d expect, with few surprises, but nobody really wants surprises as a jukebox musical do they? 

Ultimately ‘MJ the Musical’ feels like an illustration of the limits of the bio-musical genre. The music and choreography are immaculate, and Frost is extraordinary. But it also aspires to shed light on and bring us closer to one of the most complicated celebrities of the twentieth century. And in that respect it can still only go so far. A big commercial musical is probably never going to be the medium for the great Michael Jackson drama – but at its best ‘MJ’ comes tantalisingly close to showing us what that might look like.


Event website:
Prince Edward Theatre
Old Compton Street
Tube: Tottenham Court Road/Leicester Square
£20-£175. Runs 2hr 30min

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