‘MJ the Musical’: A Celebration of Michael Jackson’s Brilliance & Unmatched Stage Artistry



This page contains content sponsored by ‘MJ the Musical.’

It’s impossible to leave the theater after seeing the high-powered Broadway musical, MJ without feeling completely exhilarated and entertained. It’s a full-throttled celebration of Michael Jackson’s unbridled musical creativity and a dazzling display of his unmatched stage artistry. It makes you remember all over again why the King of Pop was widely considered the greatest stage performer of all time.

MJ is based on the book by Pulitzer-winning playwright, Lynn Nottage and takes place during the final rehearsal days before the start of his Dangerous tour in 1992. With that premise established, the show skillfully weaves highlights of Jackson’s earlier years along with his biggest global hits into a glossy, fast-moving production. We are treated to three versions of Jackson in the production: Little Michael (in his childhood years), middle Michael (during his Off the Wall era), and main Michael (in his full mega superstar phase). The hits keep on coming all through the show, and when body-shaking tracks like “You Wanna Be Starting Something” and “Beat It” are performed, the energy in the entire theater is electric and undeniable.

We caught the musical on a brisk November night at Manhattan’s Neil Simon Theater. The lead actor in the main Michael role was Elijah Rhea Johnson — and boy, what an unbelievable revelation he was! His show-stopping renditions of fan favorites like “Billie Jean,” “Smooth Criminal” and “Human Nature ” were both gravity-defying and spine-tingling. Johnson possesses an outstanding vocal range and jaw-dropping dance skills. There is a particular moment during the show when he hit a perfect Moonwalk and the crowd immediately erupted in thunderous applause. He also tore the house down with phenomenal performances of “They Don’t Care About Us” and a raucous “Thriller” rendition that will absolutely take your breath away.

The musical succeeds on so many levels because of its slick pacing and exceptional set design, helmed respectively by director/choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon and set designer, Derek Mclane. Throughout the show, the viewer is transported to various critical stops in Jackson’s life: his childhood home in Gary, IN., Berry Gordy’s Motown office in Detroit, a glitzy Soul Train stage, and lots more. We’re even treated to seminal Jackson 5 performances at the iconic Apollo stage and their historical debut on TheEd Sullivan Show.

With the musical being set in 1992, the legal issues that marred Jackson’s legacy later in life aren’t included in this show. The audience is given a glimpse, however, into the darker side of Jackson’s one-of-a-kind genius. We encounter what might be the start of his pain medication addiction and witness the extremely tense and often oppressive patriarch/son dynamic between Jackson and his father, Joseph. The roles of Joseph and his supportive tour manager, Rob, are played by the same actor, revealing a stark difference in Jackson’s support systems. We asked the gifted actor Apollo Levine playing these two pivotal roles how he navigated these characters. “What both of these men have in common is that they are both protectors,” Levine said. “Here we have a father showing up for his child and a friend that’s just trying to be the best friend he can be. What I get to do every night is take to the stage and highlight these two characters with no judgment.”

Another goosebump-inducing moment is the soaring performance of “I’ll Be There” performed by cast member, Ayana George, cast in the role of Jackson’s mother, Katherine. It takes place during a sweet mother-and-son sequence that transpires after childhood Michael is scolded yet again by his demanding father. “It’s definitely a moment in the show that I am super proud of,” George states. “As a mother myself, it’s not hard to go into ‘mommy mode’ when singing it. I channel the maternal love, pride, and desire to protect, and even the fear of my child facing harsh realities of the world.”

George was also quick to heap tons of praise on the entire ensemble cast for creating an alchemy that delivers magic each and every night. “What you see on stage is a display of the awesome family dynamic we have — we love each other beyond our gifts & talents,” she raves. “I am inspired and in awe of them literally every day! MJ is not an easy show. These folks are in the warmup space stretching, vocalizing & prepping, and then get on stage and make it all look effortless eight times a week. Our love for MJ draws us together. Honoring his legacy, telling his story, and giving the audience what they need is our collective goal.”

And at the end of it all, MJ the Musical delivers a magnificent tribute to a superstar who was a source of happiness, joy, love, and inspiration for the millions of people who heard his music and watched him perform. Of course, he had his struggles and shortcomings, but as humans, flaws and frailties are part of the package deal. This is one of those shows that you should definitely put on your radar to enjoy whenever you get a chance. It’s entertainment of the highest order and a Broadway experience you’ll never forget.

MJ the Musical is currently playing in NYC and is expanding to key European cities in 2024.

To get your tickets, click here.

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