Despite the many, many speed bumps the Michael Jackson musical has hit on its road to Broadway, the show is still planning to start performances this year. The latest development: Ephraim Sykes, who was set to star as Michael Jackson in MJ, has left the musical due to scheduling conflicts with an upcoming feature film, according to a release from the production. Sykes was a Tony nominee for the Temptations musical Ain’t Too Proud and recently booked a role in the second season of Russian Doll. MJ has replaced Sykes with newcomer Myles Frost of Washington, D.C., who was found after an “exhaustive search for a uniquely talented performer,” according to the release.
The musical, produced by Lia Vollack Productions and the Michael Jackson estate, is still barreling ahead with plans to start performances later this year at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre on December 6 and to open on February 1. The musical was first announced back in 2018, but then in 2019, it canceled its tryout run in Chicago following the Sundance premiere of the documentary Leaving Neverland, which covers Wade Robson and James Safechuck’s allegations that Jackson molested them. (The musical officially blamed an Actors’ Equity strike for the tryout’s cancellation, though the union claimed it wouldn’t have affected those plans.)
In April of that year, book writer Lynn Nottage and director Christopher Wheeldon defended the project in an interview with the New York Times, during which they said they found the men in the documentary “very believable,” as Wheeldon put it, “but our position in making this show is that we’re trying to make a show that’s balanced.” (Jackson’s estate has denounced Robson and Safechuck as “liars.”) Finally, the pandemic scuttled plans for the musical to open in the summer of 2020, pushing it back a year and a half. Stay tuned for whatever goes wrong next.