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The Student Newspaper of Lakeside School

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The Student Newspaper of Lakeside School

TATLER

Michael Jackson’s complex life and music shine in “MJ: The Musical”

Courtesy+of+Matthew+Murphy
Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

The lobby and stairs were bursting at the seams, and we had long given up on visiting the bathrooms before taking our seats; we simply wanted to make it before the lights dimmed. The kind staff finally pointed me, my mom, and my cousin to the right section, and we pulled ourselves up the stairs before plopping down in our seats. We had made it! I looked down to the seats below, expecting the theater to go black at any moment, but I instead found a messy stage with one lone dancer stretching in the corner.

I was shocked. Was the show going to take another half hour to start? Had we run all the way here from our parking spot blocks for nothing? I grew more and more confused as more dancers entered the stage, and what seemed like a stage manager popped out to address them. 

I was about to lean to my right to whisper a question to my family when music started to play. Those electric, descending notes sounded out, and Michael Jackson’s Beat It began as the dancers jumped into formation. MJ: The Musical had begun.

The musical is set during the rehearsals for Michael Jackson’s 1994 “Dangerous Tour,” while an ongoing MTV interview allows for us to get a glimpse into both MJ’s professional and personal lives, interspersed with scenes from his youth. The stage’s setting and characters got me invested early on, while also starting off the show on a classic and energetic beat. The songs in general were always exciting; the musical’s narrative allowed for a great balance of switching between MJ’s own music and original, narratively driven songs for the musical. 

The original songs focused on his start in music: Specifically, his time in his family’s band, the Jackson 5. It demonstrated how the way MJ was raised impacted his attitude when it came to his creative work. The transitions from the Jackson 5 to the tour rehearsals showed MJ obsessing over every detail of the tour, continuously trying to add unrealistic dances and elements to make it truly unforgettable. The audience truly starts to feel his panic with him, especially as his childhood in the Jackson 5 soon transitions to his start as a musician, featuring his first big breaks as well as his introduction to addictive medication. 

This panic is doubly exemplified by the choice of having his dad and the tour’s director played by the same actor. This emphasizes the overlap in MJ’s past and present states, and he demonstrates how the need to aim for perfection is constantly surrounding and suffocating MJ. The actress playing MJ’s mother also doubled as one of the tour dancers. She progressed from being MJ’s support in his corner in an entertainment-driven world to supporting his father in pressuring him to return to the family business. She allows no safe space to remain for MJ, and this manifests in MJ’s growing isolation in preparing this tour. 

Besides adding onto MJ’s complex story and career, the Jackson 5 performances were so fun and lively! I was never bored during the show; there was always something to look at or discover on stage. The costumes shone bright and dazzled the audience, whether it was the Jackson 5’s matching pink pantsuits or MJ’s iconic hat and glove, and the dancers were constantly hitting every beat and nailing every move.

I was never bored during the show; there was always something to look at or discover on stage.

The performers not only put energy into hitting their steps and singing, but more subtle elements as well, like keeping their impressions clean and accurate. The adult and kid MJs stuck out to me; adult MJ’s rendition of “Billie Jean” sounded exactly like the recorded version, and kid MJ had a beautiful, clear voice. 

One musical number that particularly stood out to me was the one that most audience members were foaming at the mouth with excitement for: Thriller. It was intense in all the best ways: The stage was lit a fiery red, new set designs dropped down from the heavens for a dramatic reveal, and dancers wearing red head-to-toe bodysuits came out with mind-boggling contortionist tricks. It also featured MJ’s dad turning into the monster that chased him throughout the musical number, finally cornering him on the stage, front and center, by the end of the song. 

This final scene of Thriller is just one of the beautiful images created on stage during MJ: The Musical. Another was during the musical’s penultimate number, The Man in the Mirror, where MJ’s relatives and friends gathered on stage, along with gigantic mirrors, pleading with MJ to take a deeper look at the man staring back at him. And during MJ’s final conversation with the MTV interviewer, the letters of the Hollywood sign began to close in on him in the center of the stage. This scene also allowed for MJ to clearly speak on some of his greatest controversies, such as his drug addiction and vitiligo. Altogether, these paint an empathetic picture of MJ, where we can understand what built up to his personal losses, while still respecting him and not sensationalizing these events the way the media had done during his lifetime. 

This all leads to the show’s final scene of MJ rising from a smoky stage, with crowds cheering his name as he begins his “Dangerous Tour.” While it accurately shows that MJ never got a perfect happy ending — the show must always go on — we are given a complete picture of the complex, misunderstood, and hardworking man he was.

While it accurately shows that MJ never got a perfect happy ending — the show must always go on — we are given a complete picture of the complex, misunderstood, and hardworking man he was.

After following him through his start with the Jackson 5, the massive success of his Thriller album, and the destructive process of his tour, I could already feel the musical’s songs taking root in my head, as earworms that would remain for days.

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About the Contributor
Lael G. '25, Copy Editor
Lael is disillusioned.   Born May 29th, the universe stopped when Lael entered the world. Per her own recollection (which is “super sharp”), that day the sun shone brilliantly upon the Earth, babies stopped crying, depression was cured, and militants around the world were perplexed as their weapons began to melt into the ground.   Yet, nothing can last forever. For that moment of “Armistice Day all over again” was infinitesimal. Now, Lael spends her days tossing and turning, giving impassioned TED talks in her head, yearning to return the world to that state of bliss. Since elementary school at St. George -- “once a dragon, always a dragon” -- she’s been rallying the masses to her causes through her work in both the “state media apparatus” (the St. George gazette) and her own, underground student operation -- the deliciously subversive “Daily Whatever.”   In high school, her world-changing career in this field has only continued, whether she’s “Doing it for the Duwamish” in her club at school or in downtown Seattle, reporting in the field on student protests for gun control. “It hasn’t been easy,” she says, “I often think philosophically, about my own life and my place in it, and it’s a burden, the weight of it all, you know?” However, despite the heavy consequences of being an ethics bowl superstar, she gets by as Tatler’s faithful copy editor (with just a little help from GamePigeon and her pet cat, Juliet).

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