Setting off a veritable shock wave of puzzled head-shaking this morning, producers of MJ The Musical announced today that the Michael Jackson musical will hit Broadway in summer 2020. In light of the recurring allegations of child sexual abuse that have tarnished Jackson's legacy, including those in the recent HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, many have questioned whether now is the very best time to celebrate the King of Pop in a Broadway show. As ideas for musicals go, this one seems, well…bad. (Shamone. You know.)
Formerly titled Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough—which, for obvious reasons, was not a great choice—the show will draw its score from Jackson's extensive catalog, with a book by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage (Ruined) and direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon (An American in Paris). For a while, it seemed as though the musical might be canceled. Right before the documentary premiered, MJ's producers pulled the show's planned tryout run in Chicago; the ostensible rationale was that a labor dispute had cut into the show's development time, but observers suspected cold feet. Now, however, MJ is officially on track for Broadway. Previews are slated to begin at the Neil Simon Theatre on July 6, 2020, with an official opening scheduled for August 13. (Tickets go on sale on January 15.)
In an interview with the New York Times in April, Nottage said that the musical would focus on Jackson's Dangerous tour of the early 1990s, which she called "the apotheosis of his creative journey." Since some of the alleged abuse occurred during this period, Nottage and Wheeldon face a challenge in addressing that aspect of Jackson's history. For the show's creators, who are working with the cooperation of the Jackson estate, it may be a challenging dance. "The men [in Leaving Neverland] came across as very believable," Nottage told the Times. "But here’s the caveat: Were they ultimately telling the truth? I cannot 100 percent say so, because I’m not judge and jury […] We can ask certain questions, but our job is not to answer those questions. My job is to reflect and interrogate and present." Their task, Wheeldon added, was "to paint a balanced picture. Yes, lean into the complexities, lean into the darkness, but also recognize the great amount of music and film and choreography that Michael left behind."