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Davis Journal

MJ: The Musical is a stunning tribute to the King of Pop

Feb 28, 2024 05:24PM ● By Peri Kinder

Roman Banks as 'MJ' and the cast of the MJ First National Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy, MurphyMade

It’s 1992 at a studio in Los Angeles. Dancers and musicians are warming up, waiting for Michael Jackson to rehearse for his Dangerous World Tour. As MJ walks into the studio, the music changes to Beat It, and the Eccles Theater's audience goes wild. 

MJ: The Musical, presented by Broadway at the Eccles and Zions Bank, highlights Jackson’s vast catalog of songs from his rise with his brothers in the Jackson 5, through his first record produced by Quincy Jones (Off the Wall), to his first Grammys and his eighth album, Dangerous. Jackson took Dangerous in a new direction, focusing on social issues and new sounds and styles of music, and he needed it to be perfect. 

Played brilliantly by Roman Banks (Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen and High School Musical: The Series), MJ embodies his fear of rejection, mistrust of the press, and desire to create new ways to connect with audiences. 

Soft-spoken, even when angry, Banks portrays the King of Pop with exquisite movements. Each wrist flick, side step, crotch grab, or moonwalk gives off a feeling of nostalgia while the visionary perfectionist dances through his past. Banks nails MJ’s whispery, falsetto voice throughout the performance.

Devin Bowles plays MJ’s father Joseph, as well as Rob, the tour director, changing seamlessly between roles, sometimes in the space of a heartbeat. As Joseph leads his sons toward stardom, Little Michael, played by Josiah Benson sees the abuse, manipulation, and rage his father doles out and it stays with him throughout his life.

Brandon Lee Harris is striking as Jackson’s teenage and young adult self, and Josh A. Dawson is great as Tito Jackson/Quincy Jones. Mary Kate Moore plays Rachel, an MTV filmmaker trying to get the scoop on MJ as she films the Dangerous tour rehearsal.

MJ: The Musical is, like most biomusicals, a journey through the performer's life via his biggest hits. There are no big surprises, no big reveals, but for Jackson’s fans, the songs and incredible choreography won’t disappoint, even if his life story at the time seems incomplete. 

Yes, MJ was a musical genius, deserving of accolades for his talent and showmanship. Still, the show portrayed him as a victim, from his abusive father to the crazed paparazzi to his team who enabled his drug addiction. 

Created by Tony Award®-winning Director/Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, MJ provides a look at the mind and spirit that shot Michael Jackson into the stuff of legends.  

The show runs at Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City through Sunday, March 3. Tickets are available online.