On Tuesday evening in New York City, “MJ The Musical,” a new biographical musical celebrating the life and work of Michael Jackson, opened on Broadway.
“MJ The Musical,” written by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage and produced in arrangement with the Michael Jackson estate, depicts the rehearsal process for Jackson’s 1992 “Dangerous” world tour—set one year before allegations of sexual misconduct first surfaced about the artist.
And the show’s backers were quick to shut down any mention of the scandal that still clouds the King of Pop’s life and legacy at the red-carpet premiere of the musical, kicking out this Variety journalist for bringing up the topic of Jackson’s alleged abuse. In response to questions that asked how audience members should balance potential discomfort with enjoyment of the show’s theatrical artistry, cast members gave considered and conscientious responses.
“Art is very complicated,” Quentin Earl Darrington, who plays the roles of Rob and Joe Jackson in the musical, told Variety on the red carpet. “I pray that for every piece of theater that you see—whether it’s ‘Oklahoma,’ ‘MJ The Musical,’ or ‘The Music Man’—that you can find yourself in the story being told. You can grapple, wrestle, be enlightened, be intrigued, be mystified by how you fit in the context of life being displayed before you.”
“Maybe you have some questions,” he said. “Maybe you have some resolutions. Maybe you’ll be frightened. But that’s what art is all about.”
Yet, after several candid conversations with cast members, representatives for the show told Variety’s reporter that he was no longer welcome on the carpet.
“I’ve been hearing you’re asking difficult questions,” one representative said. “Not on opening night. If you would like to ask real questions, you can schedule an interview with the cast.”
The representative revealed that the show’s principal cast members weren’t prepared to answer questions about controversies surrounding the late musician.
But the creative team behind the show seemed open to grappling with Jackson’s undeniable contributions to music, as well as the multiple claims of sexual assault and abuse that nearly derailed his career. Before Variety was barred from the carpet, Darrington offered some salient advice to theatergoers.
“Bring your open eyes,” he said. “Bring your humanity. Bring your awareness. Bring your pain. Bring your doubt. Bring your fears. It doesn’t matter. Bring all of you to the theater.”