‘MJ The Musical’ is more than the music

COSTA MESA, Calif. (News4usonline) – Opening night for “MJ The Musical” was a thriller. Playing for two weeks at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, ”MJ The Musical.” on its First National Tour, is a stunning visual of rhythmic dancing and finger-popping moments. 

For those who never got the opportunity to see Michael Jackson perform live, “MJ The Musical” just might be the closest thing you will ever get. The Broadway musical which has four Tony Awards under its belt, is full of twists and turns during its run time of two hours and 20 minutes. 

Roman Banks as ‘MJ’ and the cast of the MJ First National Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy, MurphyMade

Without question, the essence of “MJ The Musical” is the music as the production takes us down memory lane. There’s a lot of nostalgia whenever Jackson’s music comes on the radio airwaves. 

And you certainly feel those vibes listening and watching lead actor Roman Banks (MJ) reenact the ghosts of Jackson to perfection. From the mannerisms of Jackson to the falsetto singing of the “Black or White” singer, it’s clear that Banks owns this role. He is electric. 

I mean, when you think about the amount of energy, resources and the plethora of auditions that had to be conducted to find the right guy to portray one of the greatest entertainers of all time, this had to be a momentous challenge. 

Banks answers the call and more. With every gyration, every movement being under the microscope and thus closely vetted night in and night out, Banks leaves no doubt why he was cast as MJ. 

In the second part of the show, Banks turns it on to the gateway of the MJ experience as he dazzles like the illuminating sequin jacket he puts on as he dances, twirls and sings a litany of Jackson’s hits, including Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal, and Thriller.   

There’s a lot of fun in watching “MJ The Musical.” But there is also a lot of pause for thought scenes. Some of those include Jackson’s interaction with Joseph Jackson (played by Devin Bowles), his father. 

There are scenes during “MJ The Musical” where things get tense as Jackson tries to overcome his dad’s antagonistic ways and relentless bullying. 

Josiah Benson as ‘Little Michael’ and Anastasia Talley as ‘Katherine Jackson’ in the MJ First National Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy, MurphyMade

With the backdrop of a Los Angeles rehearsing studio in 1992, where he is preparing for his “Dangerous” album world tour, Jackson (MJ) takes the audience on a flashback tour as he reluctantly retraces his past with reporter Rachel (Mary Kate Moore). 

Rachel is working for MTV and is sent to document aspects of Jackson’s rehearsals as the Human Nature crooner preps for his big tour date. Rachel and her cameraman wound up getting a whole lot more than some dance footage. 

This becomes the gist of “MJ The Musical” as Jackson (MJ) relives the ups and downs, the successes and failures of growing up under the brooding presence of his father. An intersection of dialogue meant to just be “about the music” turned out to be a watershed time for Jackson (MJ). 

He is deeply reflective of who he was as a child prodigy, who he is at the present and the man he wants to become. As he dives back into his past, Jackson appears to unearth a myriad of feelings about himself and those around him. He has trust issues. 

Jackson’s album Dangerous is an album that represents an avenue of freedom he never had while under the heavy-handed Joseph. Not only that, Jackson (MJ) was not bound by Motown and the Berry Gordy way nor did he have the blueprint of Quincy Jones (Thiller) shadowing his creative control. 

Roman Banks as ‘MJ’ and Mary Kate Moore as ‘Rachel’ in the MJ First National Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy, MurphyMade

He was in charge. He was not going to let any demons he may have struggled with take that away from him. As he crafts his routines with his backup dancers as he preps for the Dangerous tour, Jackson (MJ) becomes a nonstop perfectionist. He was driven to get things right, something Joseph seared into his head as a child. 

The problem is that nothing is ever perfect. Jackson (MJ), however, kept searching for it. In “MJ The Musical,” Jackson (MJ) thrives to get there, even possibly to his detriment. There are several not-so-subtle messages that “MJ The Musical” offers about Jackson and what his world looked like from his perspective.   

But at the end of the day, Jackson (MJ) was about the music. And there is plenty of music that covers the bases of this fast-moving and fun musical. There are more than three dozen songs in “MJ The Musical” that you can twist your hips to, including hits sung from the Jackson 5 era.

While the music undoubtedly is what people come to see and hear, it is the storytelling of Jackson (MJ) and the driving forces that shaped him both as a man and as an artist that makes “MJ The Musical” something special.   

Top Image Caption: Roman Banks as ‘MJ’ and the cast of the MJ First National Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy, MurphyMade

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