Fair warning: I’ll try to keep the song puns to a minimum in this re-hee-view for the Michael Jackson bio-sical MJ the Musical. Now showing at The Music Hall at Fair Park, Broadway Dallas’ current offering was a sensation chock-full of his big hits and dance moves, but also a compelling look into the King of Pop’s creative process as he prepared for his 1992 Dangerous World Tour.
The opening number “Beat It” launched the show immediately into an energetic frenzy and actor Roman Banks embodied the singer wholeheartedly down to Michael Jackson’s finger wagging and vocal hiccups. The sight of him was almost startling as Banks’ man in the mirror was Jackson. The nuances of that performance were extraordinary. By the end of the first act, fatigue set in a slight bit for Banks as “Jackson” felt a bit slower and vocally rougher, but that’s a small complaint against the giant talent of Banks to bring such a performance to the stage. The way he made you feel was the same kind of charisma the singer had in his heyday.
As the show dove into his backstory and drug addiction, Banks peeled back layers of the Michael Jackson everyone knows and portrayed a complex and conflicted artist. Plus, the emotional drama portrayed with his family – most notably his abusive and demanding father Joe — Banks, along with Brandon Lee Harris (middle Michael) and Ethan Joseph (one of two young little Michael actors) brought a distinct heft in their dramatic performances but also stepped up to all the early Jackson songs and moves.
As both Joe and stage manager Rob, Devin Bowles’ acting was so fluid as he switched in and out of characters onstage with ease. He was frightening and intimading as the Jackson patriarch. As the matriarch Katherine, Anastasia Talley gave a powerful performance especially in a moving duet of “I’ll Be There” with young Michael.
The setting of the show was primarily set in the rehearsal space for the tour which gave easy segues into the big dance numbers, but throwback scenes adjusted smoothly into the Soul Train set or the old Jackson home in Gary, Indiana. The “Thriller” number though was beautiful with its Moulin Rouge vibes and special effects.
While a jukebox musical, MJ played up a lot of the singer’s creative tenacity in getting the show just perfect. Many of the songs were used smartly to move the story forward. But the beauty of Jackson was the joy that his songs brought to the audience as the high energy numbers yieled huge applause and folks clapped or grooved in their seats to all the other songs. Banks’ moonwalk was spot-on and brought the house down. Perhaps that’s all what the audience wanted – to remember the time when Jackson’s talents were alive in this world – but MJ the Musical and this cast and crew delivered more than just the hits – they delivered magic.
MJ the Musical runs through Dec. 3.