After abruptly canceling a planned tryout run in Chicago shortly after the release of the documentary Leaving Neverland, the Michael Jackson musical MJ is somehow still going forward, and has announced its star. Ephraim Sykes, a Tony nominee for his role in the Temptations musical Ain’t Too Proud, will star as Michael Jackson in the show, which focuses specifically on Jackson’s career in the early 1990s and his Dangerous World Tour, the final month of which Jackson famously canceled citing painkiller addiction. The cancellation was also amid a lawsuit from the parents of Jordan Chandler claiming the singer “repeatedly committed sexual battery” on their son. Jackson denied the allegations, prosecutors declined to pursue a criminal case, and the civil case was settled out of court. MJ is set to start performances on Broadway on July 6, 2020, with an opening night on August 13.
The musical was first announced in 2018, with a creative team led by playwright Lynn Nottage (Sweat, Ruined) and director Christopher Wheeldon (An American in Paris). The musical canceled its planned run in Chicago after the premiere of the documentary Leaving Neverland, which focused on Wade Robson and James Safechuck’s molestation allegations against the singer, at Sundance in early 2019. In canceling that Chicago run, the musical’s producers, which include the Michael Jackson Estate (currently suing HBO for airing the documentary), blamed an Actors’ Equity strike, though the union denied that the small-scale strike would have significantly affected the production’s schedule.
In April, Nottage and Wheeldon gave an interview with the Times where they said they found the men in the documentary “very believable,” according to Wheeldon, “but our position in making this show is that we’re trying to make a show that’s balanced.” “Do I believe he was a pedophile? I don’t know that I can say one way or the other,” Nottage said. “I don’t think any of us can say with absolute certainty, because we’ve been presented with some information, but Michael Jackson is dead, he’s not in a position to defend himself.”