“MJ The Musical” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – March 13, 2024


“MJ The Musical”
Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Michael Jackson was the consummate musical artist – singer, song stylist, and dancer par extraordinaire, plus a character actor – who was taken from the world when his career was about to have a re-birth back to the soaring days of his early success.  Who knows what more he could have created but he left a great legacy and the Tony Award-winning “MJ The Musical” is Broadway’s tribute to Jackson.

The dynamic show landed this week at ASU Gammage as part of a multi-year national tour and it is a stellar piece of entertainment starting with Roman Banks’ on-target Jackson impersonation.

The show begins and ends with preparation and the final exhaustive rehearsals of his comeback extravaganza.  Using his many hit tunes, it traces his life from childhood as part of the Jackson Five through the rigorous, vibrant, and alive routines he trademarked as they throb with the aplomb that the entertainer brought to every routine.

The musical is boisterous as was most of Jackson’s material but it is difficult to discern any lyrics in ASU Gammage with its awful acoustics and while the sets recreate the showy environments of Jackson’s performances plus the more mundane studios where he recorded his music, the show’s spectacle can’t all be seen due to ASU Gammage’s dreadful sightlines.

But acoustics and visual acuity aside, the Christopher Wheeldon staged and choreographed production always provides sensational musical, dance, and visual surprises.  It is hard to believe that “MJ The Musical” looked much different during its current and successful Broadway run.

The show touches on several significant things that influenced Jackson’s career including an evil father who pushed his children to exhaustive heights, a doctor who provided Jackson with powerful but addictive painkillers that ultimately killed him, the entertainer’s own drive that pushed him to perfection, and his desire to refine everything that pressed him to exhaustion.  The huge cast expertly play ensemble dancers as well as other characters who impacted Jackson’s development.

Three fantastic performers essay Jackson with Banks playing the mature Jackson with a dazzlingly accurate impersonation but while he correctly uses Jackson’s high-pitched and shallow voice, it is hard to understand the lyrics which reveal much about the singer’s life. Brandon Lee Harris plays the Jackson who evolved into a big time celebrity while Josiah Benson is Little Michael who pushed himself to become the success he achieved.

It’s an astounding non-stop entertainment that is a touching and insightful look at who Michael Jackson was.  “MJ The Musical” continues through Sunday, March 17.  To order tickets, call the ASU Gammage box office at 480-965-3434 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: A