Reviews Roundup: MJ The Musical

Prince Edward Theatre

Myles Frost in MJ The Musical. Photo: Johan Persson

MJ The Musical has been a money-spinning success on Broadway, now it hopes to repeat the magic in London’s West End before conquering the rest of the world. The book is by double Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage who wrote Sweat. She covers Michael Jackson‘s life and career up until the eve of the Dangerous tour. This has the advantage that no mention need be made of the allegations of child abuse which were first publicised during that tour. That doesn’t stop all the critics mentioning the ‘elephant in the room’. But how did it affect their reviews? They were largely divided between those who can put the allegations aside and those who can’t. If you belong to the former, there is clearly much to enjoy in Christopher Wheeldon‘s choreography and of course Michael Jackson’s music, brought to life by the original Broadway star Myles Frost.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Neil Norman in The Express (4★) had a nifty way of justifying his concentration on the show: ‘Any attempt to cancel a man who has already been cancelled by God is a redundant exercise. The music stands. The songs are amazing. Let that be enough.’ And, pre-empting the criticism that this is just another jukebox musical: ‘Some may consider this a hollow, vacuous enterprise but this is show business, folks, and it is his artistic, not personal, legacy that is being celebrated.’

Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times (4★) was similarly accommodating. He accepted that it’s ‘a partial account’. ‘As drama it only goes so far. As spectacle, as a celebration of what he achieved in song and dance, it’s pretty much sensational.’ Earlier in his review, he praised it as ‘a jaw-droppingly well staged, fabulously sung and fluidly choreographed act of necromancy.’

The Independent‘s Alice Saville (4★) felt there was ‘enough darkness’ in the story up to that point. She was impressed by the way Lynn Nottage’s script ‘exposes Jackson through his songs, showing how he increasingly danced to the rhythms of past traumas’ (referring to his childhood). She liked the way Myles Frost ‘moves with a dreamy, fantastically eerie lightness’ and she praised ‘Derek McLane’s impossibly lavish scenic design and a universally strong cast.’

Sarah Crompton at Whats On Stage (4★) found that ‘it not only swerves the controversies surrounding him, but also never begins to reach the mystery that made his music so magical and yet the man so opaque.’ The quality of the production and its star seemed to compensate: ‘staged by Wheeldon with such energy and panache that the trajectory is breathtaking.’ (Frost’s) impersonation of Jackson’s choreography is razor sharp..but even more impressively he does manage to conjure something of the tortured soul behind the image.’

Nick Curtis in The Standard (4★) concluded: ‘You leave ravished by the spectacle of it all, with countless earworms lodged in your head, and then the moral dubiousness of the enterprise sinks back in.’  He explained why it is possible to get carried away and temporarily ignore what he calls ‘the elephant in the room’: ‘That the show still works is largely down to the half-quicksilver, half-machine performance of Frost…Christopher Wheeldon’s production is a superlatively directed and choreographed piece of absolute pizzaz…writer Lynn Nottage gets to deftly intertwine Jackson’s life and his art.’

For Andrzej Lukowski in Time Out (3★), ‘the omission of any allusion to his friendships with children feels… noticeable’, but concluded ‘A big commercial musical is probably never going to be the medium for the great Michael Jackson drama.’ He loved the ‘jaw-droppingly talented original Broadway star Myles Frost.. Jackson’s arsenal of moves were so singular – and so technically dazzling – that it doesn’t feel dated at all.’

While acknowledging that the show is ‘impossible to view today entirely outside the prism of the allegations’, The Telegraph‘s Claire Allfree (3★) was another critic who focussed on enjoying the show: ‘it’s arguably guilty of magical thinking in casting him exclusively as a victim. But does this make his art – as so beautifully honoured here – any less intoxicating? I’m not sure in the end it does.’  What intoxicated her most was Frost ‘capturing precisely Jackson’s sublime, peculiarly agitated grace, his limbs seemingly made from tensile liquid as he thrusts and coils, shimmers and spins, like a man made from air and light, dancing on water. Blending a pop-video aesthetic with simply superb choreography’.

In The Times (3★), Clive Davis was more cynical about the standard of the production: ‘If the day comes when musicals are created by artificial intelligence they may well resemble this jukebox show. It’s proficient, but oddly soulless.’ In a classic praise sandwich, he said: ‘Christopher Wheeldon’s production offers an immaculately choreographed evening of 24-carat karaoke anchored by the sleek dance moves of..Myles Frost.’

Anya Ryan in The Guardian (2★) was not seduced. She admitted ‘the stage becomes a hub of neon and gravity-defying dance moves’ and that Myles Frost is ‘a shapeshifting force’, however ‘Some might be able to separate Jackson’s art from the artist. But…I felt queasy – bad, even.’

Sam Marlowe in The Stage (2★) was another who felt ‘the glaring omission of any confrontation of the allegations against Jackson of child sexual abuse…makes its smooth, glossy, hagiographic tone feel hollow, if not plain dishonest.’ She was also more critical than some reviewers of the main elements of the show: ‘Lynn Nottage’s book is, at best, workaday and, at worst, excruciatingly contrived…dramatically, it’s all very bland.’ For her, in a statement that will shock Michael Jackson fans, ‘even the groundbreaking music..becomes a little monotonous.’ Taking an opposite view to The Standard (see above), she said it was ‘sounding strikingly dated’.

Alexander Cohen at Broadway World (2★) says it all in his opening paragraph: ‘At its best MJ: the Musical is a tribute act populated by a mixtape of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits and the signature silky angularity of his choreography. At its worst this slathered-in-schmaltz hagiography is like watching the Zone of Interest: you know the disturbing stuff is always just out of view.’

Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the Financial Times (2★) chose a more sarcastic approach: ‘not since Jesus Christ Superstar has the West End hosted such a saintly protagonist as the hero of MJ the Musical.’ He had no illusions: ‘the production’s main rationale is to get as many songs on the jukebox as possible.’

MJ The Musical can be seen at the Prince Edward Theatre until 7 December 2024. Buy tickets direct from

Average critic rating (out of 5) 3.1★

Value rating  31 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price. In theory, this means the higher the score the better value but, because of price variations, a West End show could be excellent value if it scores above 30 while an off-West End show may need to score above 60. This rating is based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

If you’ve seen MJ The Musical, you are welcome to add your review and rating below (but please keep it relevant and polite)