MJ The Musical

MJ The Musical • February 27, 2024 • Eccles Theater

Reviewed by Kevin Rolfe

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

When I first heard they were doing a Broadway musical of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, I thought, this will have great music and dancing, and it’ll surely bring in tourists.  But I wondered how good it would be.  This seems like a show that a production could easily get wrong.  I was thinking if I ever saw it, I’d be seeing a watered-down, cash grab of a jukebox musical.  But when MJ was announced as part of the Broadway at the Eccles 2023/24 season, I started to hear good things about the production coming from New York.  I was hearing that it was actually a good show.  I was excited to find out for myself.  

While the audience is taking their seats, various members of the ensemble one by one would walk on stage.  Some looked like they were dancers stretching and warming up.  Others appeared to be part of the production team of a show.  As someone who has been in a few productions, it reminded me exactly of a tech rehearsal.  People warming up, the stress of getting last-minute set up taken care of before a rehearsal.  One everyone seemed stretched and ready, the lights of Eccles Theater dimmed and MJ The Musical officially began.  

What would your first question be when going to see a musical about Michael Jackson would be?  I would imagine it would be the same as mine.  “How good is the lead actor at portraying Michael Jackson?”  Not only did Michael Jackson look different over the years, but he was one of a kind.  How do you get the look, the voice, and the nuanced dance moves from someone without them trying to be a kitsch MJ impersonator?  I think the creators of this musical understood that this would be the first question anyone would have.  They answered the question immediately by opening with Roman Banks joining the dancers in the opening number “Beat It”.  I’m sure you can imagine how that went.  

The show started with amazing energy. I gave myself 30 seconds to look at Roman Banks and pick apart the ways he wasn’t exactly like Michael Jackson.  I just knew I’d notice things.  But after that, the differences slipped away and I was constantly surprised and amazed at how much he sounded, moved, and looked like Michael. After that opening number, I knew we had a great lead, an amazing ensemble, and a stellar band.   

MJ is set around the lead-up to one of Micheal Jackson’s Dangerous Tour.  One of his riskiest endeavors.  The show gives us insight into how much thought and emotion Jackson put into the tour.  It also showed the budgetary risks it would take to pull off such an extravagant concert tour.  Now as a lover of live music and a reviewer of concerts, I felt like this show was created for me.  I loved the way MJ mixed in over 25 Michael Jackson songs as both a way of showing rehearsal and preparation for the tour as well as taking us through the Michael Jackson story from his time with his brothers in the Jackson 5 through his solo career.

This production does an amazing job with how the characters in this story are portrayed.  Many of the cast members are double-cast.  For example, Devin Bowles plays Michael’s father, Joe Jackson, and his stage manager, Rob.  And Anastasia Talley plays both Michael’s mother, Katherine Jackson, and Kate, one of his backup singers.  Many times these actors would switch roles within a sentence of each other.  I was impressed with the way they were able to do that.  The ensemble as a whole was so fun to watch.  They never stopped.  The cast moved to change the staging, changed costumes, changed roles, and danced some of the most technically difficult numbers you’ll see in a Broadway show.  They blew me away.

I was curious how they would cover some of the difficult subject matter involving Micheal Jackson.  And in all reality, they didn’t.  I spoke with someone at intermission and they brought up the point that Micheal Jackson seems to be un-cancelable.  That seems to be the case. Any serious allegations, like child sexual abuse, were ever so slightly skimmed over.  It was a “blink and you’ll miss it” type of thing.  Other topics like plastic surgery, prescription drug addiction, or tabloid fodder were discussed throughout by way of an interview Jackson would have throughout the musical with Rachel, a reporter played effortlessly by Mary Kate Moore.  There seemed to be a real connection between Moore and Roman Banks.  I think these moments cleared the air on some misconceptions about Micheal Jackson, as well as raising some unanswerable questions about the King of Pop.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

I thought this production was beautifully crafted.  For any Michael Jackson fan, this is a must-see.  The “Thriller” scene is worth the price of admission alone.  The applause following that number was not only deafening, it was as long of an applause as I can remember witnessing.   Roman Banks was an outstanding Michael Jackson.  Brandon Lee Harris was excellent as a younger Michael.  And the entire cast shined for the entire night.  Aside from Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson is high on the list of people I regret not getting to see live.  This production made me feel close to seeing the real deal.

MJ runs at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City until March 3, 2024. For ticket information click here.

2 Replies to “MJ The Musical”

  1. Excellent review after having just seen the show in Denver. Mind blowing execution and talent! And thanks for sparing us a lengthy reminder about MJs dark and troubled past. This is a show about his un-erasable contribution to our musical culture and history. If you see the show with expectations of another “Leaving Neverland” you never got the point about why MJ was the King of Pop. This show splanes it perfectly

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