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Producer Lia Vollack and The Michael Jackson Estate on Thursday announced that Ephraim Sykes is set to take on the role of the late King of Pop in the upcoming Broadway show MJ the Musical.
The production — previously titled Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, after Jackson’s 1979 single — will begin preview performances July 6 with an official opening set for Aug. 13 at New York’s Neil Simon Theatre.
The show — to be directed and choreographed by Tony winner Christopher Wheeldon — will cover Jackson’s career milestones with an emphasis on his achievements throughout his 20s and 30s. MJ the Musical will feature Jackson’s catalog of hits and a book by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage.
News of Sykes’ casting comes months after HBO’s Leaving Neverland — which runs four hours and explores sexual abuse claims made against Jackson by former child stars James Safechuck and Wade Robson — won the Emmy for best documentary or nonfiction special. Following Leaving Neverland‘s debut in January at the Sundance Film Festival, Jackson’s estate called the project “a tabloid character assassination” and insisted it “isn’t a documentary,” while Jackson’s family called director Dan Reed and the pic’s two accusers “opportunists.”
Despite the scrutiny Jackson’s legacy has faced, Sykes told Essence in a recent interview that he is looking forward to showcasing the iconic musician’s “human” side. “I really want to do my best to bring it back down to show how human he truly was,” he told the publication. “Putting those extraordinary circumstances, for better or for worse, so hopefully we can all have a little bit more empathy with him, his downfalls, his demons, his struggles as well.”
Sykes is currently on Broadway in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, portraying Motown recording artist David Ruffin, a role that earned him a Tony Award nomination this year. The singer-dancer-actor has also received a Chita Rivera Award and the Helen Hayes Award, among other honors. And on Wednesday, Sykes was nominated for a Grammy as a principal artist on the original cast recording of Ain’t Too Proud.
Sykes was last seen onscreen as Seaweed J. Stubbs on NBC’s Hairspray Live!. His Broadway credits include Hamilton, Memphis, Newsies, Motown and The Little Mermaid.
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