The new Broadway musical “MJ,” which depicts the days before Michael Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous tour, opened on Tuesday night and was slammed by critics for ignoring child sex abuse allegations that were made against Jackson.
In answer to the question of whether it’s possible to separate the art from the artist, “MJ” performs a slick, crotch-grabbing sidestep. … Produced by special arrangement with the Michael Jackson estate, “MJ” narrows in on a troubled time for the artist, apparently for the sake of depicting him as a victim of the tabloid press and presenting an oblique denial of unspecified wrongdoing, referred to only briefly as “recent allegations.” … If there was darkness behind the angelic falsetto, a mix of light and shadow that made Michael Jackson a singular artist, “MJ” enacts a sleight of hand, insisting it didn’t belong to him. It’s a renouncement worthy enough of a smooth criminal.
The Daily Telegraph: “Following the broadcast of Leaving Neverland, a TV documentary in which two men accused Jackson of molesting them when they were boys, there were many who felt that a new stage show focusing on the singer was in terrible taste. And yet the box office has done brisk business, proving that Jackson is pretty much uncancellable.”
The New York Times’ Jesse Green:
As the joys of the early scenes begin to fade, “MJ” settles for baldly providing, in the relatively small space allotted to words, an avalanche of astonishing and sorrowful facts. Which is why the absence of the biggest one is so jarring. In agreeing to write what is essentially an authorized biography — the show has been produced “by special arrangement with the Michael Jackson estate” — Nottage apparently made a compromise: She would note his minor oddities while avoiding the most troubling accusations against him.
Deadline: “To address the elephant man in the room: While MJ depicts Jackson’s drug problems, raises (if only to dismiss) charges of racial self-loathing, references the Bubbles-and-Joseph Merrick eccentricities, the third-rail allegations of child molestation go unstated if not entirely ignored.”
Deadline added, “The approach is, historically speaking, defendable: The events of MJ are set in 1992 as Jackson rehearses his upcoming Dangerous world tour. … Within the musical’s universe, the closest MJ comes to confronting the topic is a vague reference to a family being invited on tour with the singer, but even that comment is open to interpretation: Is the business associate raising the issue merely worried about the expense of additional people on tour, or is he fretting about putting a young boy in such close proximity to the star? Is the reference’s sense of foreboding rooted in concern for victims of child abuse, or for a victim of scheming blackmailers?”
At one point in the musical, Jackson’s manager asks, “Who the hell is this family he wants to bring on the tour?”
Within the musical’s universe, the closest MJ comes to confronting the topic is a vague reference to a family being invited on tour with the singer, but even that comment is open to interpretation: Is the business associate raising the issue merely worried about the expense of additional people on tour, or is he fretting about putting a young boy in such close proximity to the star? Is the reference’s sense of foreboding rooted in concern for victims of child abuse, or for a victim of scheming blackmailers?
Green noted, “There are pat explanations for every peccadillo, from the plastic surgeries … to the hyperbaric chamber … His father’s viciousness is likewise given a gloss coat of justification … In this, ‘MJ’ is trying to have it both ways. It wants to blame everything sad and weird about Jackson on others (especially the press, who are equated with the zombies in ‘Thriller’) but credit him alone for his every good deed and success.”
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