Separating art from artist: Michael Jackson musical ‘was great,’ Spike says

Dec 9, 2023, 1:55 PM

MJ musical...

Jaylen Lyndon Hunter as Little Marlon and Ethan Joseph as Little Michael with the cast of the MJ: First National Tour. (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

“MJ: The Musical” made its Pacific Northwest debut in Seattle Thursday night, with the four-time Tony-winning Broadway show staying through Dec. 17 before it travels to Los Angeles. The musical will stay on the West Coast through March 2024 before traveling eastward.

“He is one of the greatest entertainers of all time,” the show stated on its website. “Now, Michael Jackson’s unique and unparalleled artistry comes to Seattle as MJ, the award-winning new musical centered around the making of the 1992 Dangerous World Tour.”

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“I went in with some trepidation going to the show,” Spike O’Neill, co-host of The Jack and Spike Show, said. “(Co-host Jack Stine) made some great points earlier in the week when I mentioned I was going to take my kid to this show about how do you separate Michael Jackson’s unfortunate legacy of personal flaws and still enjoy the music that this guy created over the course of his career?

As NPR noted in its earlier coverage, “Before and even after his death in 2009, Jackson was the subject of multiple sexual abuse accusations and police investigations as well as civil and criminal lawsuits.”

HBO aired the documentary “Leaving Neverland” in 2019. It the film, two men in their 30s at the time told their story of “how they were sexually abused by Jackson, and how they came to terms with it years later.” Jackson’s estate sued HBO for distributing the documentary, calling it a “posthumous character assassination.”

Jackson was never convicted of any abuse charges in a court of law and the singer’s estate also continues to deny all allegations, as the entertainer did in his lifetime. Jackson died at the age of 50 in 2009.

“So I’m watching the whole show through that kind of tainted lens, but I got to say, it was a great show,” Spike continued. “And the cast in this production, I can’t believe some of the performers.”

More on the actors playing Michael Jackson

Roman Banks was cast as the titular Jackson for the national tour, but the production has two other actors playing Michael Jackson at various stages in his life. Banks previously was in “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” on Disney+ and had a role in the Broadway play “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Myles Frost, the actor playing Jackson on Broadway, won best leading actor in a musical at the 2022 Tony Awards for his performance as the “King of Pop.”

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“I just want to say the performances they got from a young Michael to an adolescent to an adult Michael,” Spike said, “These people who are performing in the show, I cannot believe they found somebody who could recreate the talent of what Michael Jackson had. It’s a great show. Go see it.”

Included in the cast are Broadway child stars Ethan Joseph and Jaylen Lyndon Hunter, playing the roles of “Little Michael” and “Little Marlon,” respectively. Joseph made his Broadway debut at 11 years old in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” while this is Hunter’s first stage credit since being Young Simba on the “Lion King” tour.

“It was a really impressive production,” Joe Wallace, the producer of The John and Shari Show, said after attending the premiere Thursday night. “The music and dancing was incredible. It included a lot of his music and dance influences as well, I’d highly recommend it.”

The play was brought to life by director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon alongside two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage. Wheeldon won a Tony Award for best choreography for “MJ: The Musical.” He won his first Tony in 2015 for the choreography in “An American in Paris.”

By November, the Broadway musical production had grossed $157.2 million, with an attendance of more than one million. Tickets for the show at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre are available here.

Contributing: Steve Coogan

Listen to Jack and Spike weekdays from noon-3 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Separating art from artist: Michael Jackson musical ‘was great,’ Spike says