A Michael Jackson Musical Is Going On Tour: Yikes
In today’s “news to make your eyebrows furrow in concern”, it was announced that a musical about Michael Jackson will launch a national tour in 2023. I’ll give everyone the respect of not having to over-explain what’s slightly concerning about that. I will say that the same dark cloud of controversy and extremely dark allegations even gives me pause when considering calling Michael Jackson, as I did earlier in this paragraph, simply an “entertainer.” This isn't the first musical attempted about MJ, but it's certainly the most successful one.
The creators of the musical seemingly had no such difficulties or qualms while working on the project. All the while, knowing, one has to assume, that the first question anyone is going to have about a Michael Jackson musical, or any form of retrospective, is going to be “will it cover or address the allegations of child abuse against him.” The answer, for this musical, is a resounding no.
Now, of course, I’ll include a perfunctory paragraph about how legally, Jackson was never convicted of any of these alleged crimes. There is no shortage of coverage, including the documentary Leaving Neverland, you can consume if you would like to do your own research and form your own opinions on the validity of the claims. I’m not here to relitigate how weird it is to sleep in a bed with children that you are not related to. I’ll let that happen in the comments section.
What I am here to do is discuss how a modern tribute feels strange at best and actively gross at worst. According to AP, the basis of the musical is a fake MTV documentary in which Jackson reminisces on his undeniably storied career. To choose this structure for the musical, though, does nothing to acknowledge the natural questions, and actually draws them into further relief.
Separating the art from the artist is one of the most common, and deeply, deeply unpleasant, arguments of our current time. This musical doesn’t seek to even consider that, instead keeping the artist themselves front and center, deeply entwined with their own music. To do a jukebox musical with Michael Jackson’s songs but an unrelated cast and plot would be one argument. To do a musical that not only examines Jackson’s career, history, but his thought processes and tendencies, makes the exclusion even more apparent.
Hearing Thriller at a halloween party may not be enough to inspire a queasy feeling, or demand you remember the things Jackson was accused of. Sitting in a theater while someone playing the man himself, moonwalking across stage, talking directly to you about his life, might be a little harder to stomach.