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A densely industrial city block full of fire escapes and neons, a place that looks suspended in the imagination between Times Square and Tokyo, will form one of the principal settings for MJ, the upcoming Broadway musical inspired by the life and artistry of Michael Jackson. The Hollywood Reporter was given an exclusive first look at the work of scenic designer Derek McLane.
“The majority of the story is set inside a spacious, industrial dance rehearsal studio, but throughout the musical we find ourselves repeatedly transported into Michael’s mind — his memories and dreams,” said McLane in a statement. “The alternating between dream sequences and reality gives us the chance to repeatedly surprise the audience.”
In addition to McLane, a Tony Award winner for 33 Variations and a two-time Emmy winner for the 2014 Oscars telecast and 2017’s Hairspray Live!, the team includes multiple award winners Natasha Katz (lighting), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Gareth Owen (sound), Peter Nigrini (projections) and Charles LaPointe (hair and wigs).
David Holcenberg will serve as music supervisor, also sharing orchestration and arrangement duties with recent Tony winner Jason Michael Webb, who will be the production’s music director.
The show’s book is by Lynn Nottage, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her plays Ruined and Sweat, while direction and choreography are by Christopher Wheeldon, who made a successful transition from the ballet world into musical theater in 2015 with An American in Paris, winning a Tony for his exhilarating dance storytelling.
Few details are known about the show at this point, other than the narrative frame being pegged to the intensive rehearsal period for Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous tour, widely considered the height of his reign as the King of Pop. It remains unclear to what extent, if any, the musical will address the controversies surrounding child sexual abuse allegations that clouded the final decades of Jackson’s life and have continued since his death in 2009.
“What I would say about the show is that Lynn Nottage and Christopher Wheeldon are really unique and brilliant theater artists and I think that what we have done for as long as there has been theater is told stories about all kinds of provocative individuals,” lead producer Vollack told THR in an interview late last year. “Michael Jackson was a figure in our history who has been dead for 10 years, who had a massive impact on music and dance, on how we view celebrity and race.”
Previews for MJ are scheduled to begin July 6 at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre, ahead of an Aug. 13 official opening.
Alongside Sykes, coming off his Tony-nominated turn in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, the MJ cast will include Quentin Earl Darrington, Whitney Bashor, Gabriel Ruiz, Antoine L. Smith, Joey Sorge, Darius Barnes, Raymond Baynard, Coral Dolphin, John Edwards, Ayana George, Kali May Grinder, Apollo Levine, Ryan VanDenBoom, Lamont Walker II, Naomi C. Walley and Zelig Williams.
Tickets are on sale at Ticketmaster.
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