Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Broadway in Tucson: 'MJ - The Musical'

Bolstered by a blistering lead performance by Roman Banks, "MJ - The Musical" is a relentless surge of energy that pays tributes to the King of Pop while glossing over some of the most nefarious allegations that plagued his career.

The 2021 Broadway smash comes to life on its tour, with relentless momentum and a penchant for working its story to use bombastic performances of Jackson's greatest hits to amplify messages of loss, frustrations and perseverance that Jackson references in the framework, an interview with MTV.

Banks doesn't so much as capture Jackson's energy as he channels it. A dynamic performer who wields moves, vocals and kinetic energy that comes eerily close to that of Jackson himself, he hurls his entire being into creating a crowd-pleasing, toe-tapping spectacular.

Devin Bowles anchors the show with a dynamic dual performance as Jackson's domineering father, Joe, and manager Rob. The characters are so diametrical that it's jarring to see the same actor flip back and forth between the two so frequently, but the actor's presence provides a haunting link between the two that adds poignance to interactions with the troubled star.

The story, set before the 1993 Dangerous World Tour, is something of a wasted opportunity that fails to dig into the true fabric of the pop superstar, but that stance was likely mandated by the Jackson estate, which no doubt pushed for a warts-free hagiography rather than an honest look at a complicated, and, as many believe, nefarious figure.

It's best to check those concerns at the door and bop in delight to Banks' lights-out performances of such classics as "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Smooth Criminal," "Thriller" and "Bad." "MJ - The Musical" aims to be a rollicking tribute to a music icon that ignores the darkest corners of his personal life, and accomplishes that task with panache.

"MJ - The Musical" plays through April 7 at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.

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