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The student news site of St. Louis Park High School

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The student news site of St. Louis Park High School

The Echo

‘MJ The Musical’ is a dancing machine

Musical’s debut characterizes the “King of Pop”
Fair use from Sony Music Entertainment
Fair use from Sony Music Entertainment

The opening of “MJ The Musical” at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis debuted May 14 and ran through to May 26. The musical was created by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and award-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. Presented by Hennepin Theatre Trust, the musical follows famous pop star Michael Jackson through the production of his 1992 Dangerous World Tour, as well as explores aspects of his past and childhood.

The start of the show was somewhat slow-paced, showing off a fictional pair of characters that aimed to make a documentary of Michael Jackson’s upcoming 1993 Dangerous World Tour. Interspersed with some comic behavior and quips from Michael Jackson (Myles Frost), meant to depict his stereotypical eccentricities, we received performances of “Bad” and “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” the latter of which is my favorite Michael Jackson song. The two numbers were beautifully choreographed and acted to create an upbeat feel.

The musical often delved into flashbacks of Michael Jackson’s upbringing in the music industry — it portrayed Joe Jackson, Michael Jackson’s longtime manager, as an overbearing parent who only wanted his son to produce hit records. Meanwhile, other producers and music labels pressured Jackson to aim for certain sounds, even as he wanted to pursue pop-based trends. The musical drew on a diverse portion of Jackson’s catalog, from his early Jackson 5 records like “ABC” to classics like “Man in the Mirror” and “Human Nature.”

For tracks like “Smooth Criminal” and “Billie Jean,” it felt like the cast went all out. Spectacularly, Michael Jackson slowly donned his white jacket and fedora, to roaring applause, only to immediately toss the hat and moonwalk alone across the stage. Behind him was a surround of night-lit buildings as the iconic electric guitar of “Smooth Criminal” blasted into the audience. Smoke rose from the sides of the stage. In “They Don’t Care About Us,” Jackson sings while encircled by the cast as cosmic space seems to literally break around him, courtesy of a projected background.

Every member of the cast was amazing, and while each actor portrayal of Michael Jackson at various ages of his life were impressive and electric, Myles Frost truly fit the role of Michael Jackson as the world broadly knew him. His dance moves — including the classic moonwalk — were uncannily similar to real life Michael Jackson’s. His poses, voice, and ad-libs were all spot on. As well, the actors for the adolescent versions of Michael Jackson, despite their young age, all performed boldly and brought their roles to life.

The set was usually simple, but always fit perfectly for the scene at hand. The lighting around the stage was properly utilized, and turned explosive during the Jackson 5-themed song sets — yellows, reds and oranges to make the scene feel energetic — while during somber or slower scenes the use of white, black, and dark blues sometimes invited a noir backdrop. On two occasions, overhead lights swept over the crowd and bedazzled me amidst the overwhelming music and movements onstage. Props were mostly minimal, but evoked the setting being portrayed — even just a bed, nightstand and doorway could make do for a bedroom. Setpieces were realistic and possessed a 90s-era charm. The changing stage-size background cast by a projector allowed for numerous sweet treats for Michael Jackson fans to be shown, like a recreation of his “Heal the World” music video or a list of news headlines related to Michael Jackson, appearing to fall down like raindrops. The projected background was also used for massively powerful moments, such as when a leviathan appeared to swallow Jackson whole during a performance of “Thriller.”

The costumes, I found, were usually the most impressive aspect of scenes. Everything from the zombie outfits during the performance of “Thriller” to Michael Jackson’s iconic 1993 Super Bowl Halftime Show military jacket were immaculate. No piece of clothing was drab, instead daintily colored and accurate for the era represented, from the 1960s to the 1990s. At one point, the Jackson 5 strided out in deep pink suits and swanky heeled boots, and it appeared as if I had been transported to a Motown opening ensemble from the group from 50 years ago. The cast’s changing hair design, as well as their outfits, was also an unmistakable detail that only further invited a sense of reality about the differing time periods.

Overall, the musical was not only a well-polished tribute to Michael Jackson’s legendary pop influence, but also a creative and masterful piece of theater in its own right — down to choreography and directing, every aspect was nothing less than competent. To enjoyers of plays and musicals: see this one for its own sake. To enjoyers of Michael Jackson’s music: be prepared for a three-hour guided tour through his best music videos, only even better.

“MJ The Musical:” ★★★★★

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About the Contributor
Nicholas Garrett
Nicholas Garrett, Copy Editor
I’m Nicholas, and I’m a junior. I love to write, read, and practice storytelling in my free time. I also love journalism and anything really to do with literature. My aspiration is to leave college with the tools to become a professional writer and news reporter.  

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