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Time to dig out that sequined glove and brush up on those old moonwalk moves. The Michael Jackson Estate and Columbia Live Stage announced today that a new musical inspired by the life of the King of Pop is in development, angling to arrive on Broadway in 2020.
While few details have been released, the as-yet-untitled show will feature a book by playwright Lynn Nottage, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2009 for Ruined, her harrowing exploration of the plight of Congolese women surviving civil war; and again in 2017 for Sweat, about a close-knit community of Pennsylvania steel workers ripped apart by factory layoffs and closings.
Attached to stage the Jackson show is ballet luminary Christopher Wheeldon, who made his debut as a musical theater director-choreographer with the 2015 Broadway production of An American in Paris. His work won that year’s Tony Award for best choreography.
The musical will draw its score from Jackson’s extensive catalog, which ranges from his Motown hits as a child in the Jackson 5 through era-defining solo albums that sold millions and changed the course of pop and R&B history, chief among them Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad.
The Jackson project is the latest in a series of jukebox musicals that come in the wake of hits like Jersey Boys, about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which grossed $558 million during its 11-year Broadway run; and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, now in its fifth year on Broadway, with grosses of $222 million to date. The 2015 Gloria Estefan bio-musical On Your Feet! ran for almost two years and grossed $83.5 million, and while that wasn’t enough to nudge it into profit, the current tour might bring the production closer to recoupment.
The season that just concluded saw the arrival on Broadway of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, which so far has weathered poor reviews and is shaping up to be a crowd-pleasing hit, grossing north of $1 million a week. Currently having a tryout run in Chicago is The Cher Show, due in New York in December. Unconfirmed reports also emerged recently of a Britney Spears musical in the pipeline.
Tina, about the life of soul-pop legend Tina Turner, opened in London this spring to strong reviews — in particular for breakout star Adrienne Warren in the title role — and is rumored to be circling Broadway, while the Temptations bio-musical, Ain’t Too Proud, will follow its well-received debut at Berkeley Repertory Theatre last fall with additional tryout engagements in D.C., Los Angeles and Toronto en route to New York.
Other shows assembled around the hits of popular music artists instead have taken a non-biographical approach — like the recent Jimmy Buffett happy-hour special, Escape to Margaritaville, which flopped on Broadway; Jagged Little Pill, which draws from the Alanis Morisette songbook to explore female stories of love, abuse and survival, presently midway through a premiere run at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.; and the Go-Go’s musical Head Over Heels, opening on Broadway this summer, an Elizabethan romp combining mistaken identities, love triangles and sexual discovery.
Given the enduring fascination with Jackson, his output of some of the best-loved songs in recording history, and the extreme highs and lows of a life endlessly scrutinized and sensationalized by tabloid media, a well-crafted musical built around the artist and his legacy has the potential to be a major blockbuster.
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