Critics’ Corner: What the Reviews Say About Broadway and MJ The Musical

Broadway is the epicenter of American theatre, a place where stories come alive. One such story is MJ The Musical, an exploration of the life and music of the iconic Michael Jackson. The musical showcases the King of Pop’s rise to fame, his struggles and triumphs, and his contribution to the world of music. 

MJ The Musical: A Closer Look

MJ The Musical is a tribute to the legend. The show paints a portrait of Jackson’s life, from his early days as part of the Jackson 5 through his evolution into a global superstar. The show is packed with some of Jackson’s biggest hits, each music number a testament to his influence on pop culture.

MJ The Musical is brought to life by an ensemble of talented individuals. Leading the charge is Elijah Johnson as Michael Jackson, whose performance captures Jackson’s unique persona. Tavon Olds-Sample, in the role of Middle Michael, embodies the transition phase of Jackson’s life. The role of Little Michael is shared by Max Chambers and Jackson Hayes, both of whom shine with their youthful energy and talent. Ayana George, in the role of Katherine Jackson, anchors the ensemble with her powerful performance, providing a heartfelt portrayal of the matriarch of the Jackson family.

The creative team behind the show is equally noteworthy. The show is directed and choreographed by Tony Award®-winner Christopher Wheeldon, with a book penned by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage. Adding to this impressive lineup are scenic designer Derek McLane and costume designer Paul Tazewell. The musical direction, orchestrations, and arrangements are led by talented duo David Holcenberg and Jason Michael Webb. 

Critical Praise: Celebrating the Success of MJ The Musical

Since its debut, MJ The Musical has received positive reviews from critics. A common theme in these reviews is praise for the performances, particularly Elijah Johnson and Tavon Old-Sample’s portrayals of Michael Jackson. The Guardian acknowledged the “otherworldly magic” inherent in Jackson’s songs. The performance of Tavon Old-Sample was particularly praised, with the review calling him “remarkable.” Ayana George’s performance as Katherine Jackson was praised for her “stunning voice,” highlighting how her vocals elicited cheers from the audience on multiple occasions. The Guardian review also highlighted the show’s approach to storytelling, particularly the reimagining of “Thriller” as a haunting exploration of Jackson’s psychological struggles. The musical number was described as a “carnival of MJ’s psychological demons – the toll of perfectionism and the ghosts of bad ideologies with a phantasmagoric Joe Jackson presiding.” It was said to have “brought the house down.”

The New York Times echoed these sentiments, praising Wheeldon’s choreography and the superb, “amazingly jacked” ensemble. Meanwhile, Elle India was full of praise for Elijah Johnson in particular. The publication hailed him as the perfect choice for the leading man, lauding his uncanny resemblance to the King of Pop and his mastery over MJ’s singing technique and legendary dance moves, including the iconic Moonwalk. The review even suggested that Michael Jackson himself would have been proud of Johnson’s performance. 

When describing the score, Variety astutely observes, “Jackson’s music reverberates behind the rib cage and remains undeniable,” which rings true as the audience is treated to a plethora of his iconic hits. But the music acts are not merely a nostalgic trip down memory lane; instead, they serve as an integral component of the narrative, creating a symbiotic relationship between the story and the songs. Variety notes, “Songs that are linked to the story convey a clear message from an artist who feels both defensive and misunderstood.

Finally, The New York Daily News applauds MJ The Musical’s visual grandeur and its fantastic creative team. The review reads, “Thanks in no small part to the gorgeous palate created by Derek McLane, Natasha Katz, Paul Tazewell, and Peter Nigrini, the show is genuinely beautiful to experience throughout.” This praise underscores the tremendous effort that has gone into crafting a stunning visual spectacle.

Rave Reviews: Audience Responses to MJ The Musical

Audiences, too, have warmly embraced MJ The Musical, sharing their experiences and reactions across various platforms. On Trip Advisor, a theatre-goer gushed, “A thoroughly entertaining musical with a thought-provoking storyline,” while another shared, “So good, we decided to see it again before we left NYC.

Recognizing Excellence: Accolades and Achievements of MJ The Musical

MJ the Musical has garnered considerable attention within the theatre community. The show has been recognized with numerous nominations, reinforcing its standing as a noteworthy production on Broadway. Among its accolades, MJ The Musical has been nominated for several prestigious awards. It has been recognized by the Drama Desk Awards, with nominations in categories such as Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical for Tavon Olds-Sample and Outstanding Choreography for Christopher Wheeldon, and winning in the Outstanding Orchestrations, Outstanding Lighting Design, and Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical categories. The musical has also been nominated for several Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Outstanding New Broadway Musical and Outstanding Orchestration, with another win for Wheeldon and the Talauega brothers in Outstanding Choreographer nomination. 

MJ The Musical was also honored with numerous Tony® nominations. Ultimately, the show won Best Lighting Design of a Musical, a testament to the show’s visually stunning presentation, Best Sound Design of a Musical, underscoring the production’s attention to detail in creating an immersive auditory experience, Best Choreography, recognizing the  dance sequences that bring the magic of Michael Jackson’s music to life, and most notably Best Actor for original MJ, Myles Frost.

Whether you’re a fan of Michael Jackson, a lover of theatre, or simply someone in the mood for a memorable night out in New York City, MJ The Musical promises a blend of music, dance, and storytelling that’s sure to delight audiences. So, as you venture into the world of New York’s entertainment scene, step into the Neil Simon Theatre, take your seat, and let MJ The Musical transport you into the world of Michael Jackson.