ShentonSTAGE Daily for WED FEBRUARY 2

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily

You can also get regular updates throughout the day on ShentonSTAGE LIVE, a rolling theatre blog that appears on my website, updated throughout the day as necessary, to reflect news updates and other observations and commentary as they occur. The landing page for this is here: http://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-live/

MASKING HAS ALREADY EVAPORATED

No sooner did Boris Johnson remove all COVID safety protections last week than theattres have already stopped encouraging audiences to wear masks –and audiences have duly abandoned them in turn.

As much as I loved seeing TABOO at the London Palladium on Monday evening,  theatre staff weren’t reminding people in ANY way. I guess it’s a lost battle now that ALL restrictions have been lifted. Till the next time….

I know it very much depends on WHERE you go…. Some theatres are rigorous about reminding people. At Chichester Festival Theatre last Saturday, for instance, there was probably 90% compliance.
But what a shame it is that LW Theatres — whom Andrew Lloyd Webber was so vocal about protecting from closure during the pandemic — have already forgotten at least TRYING to encourage theatregoers to do the RIGHT THING in their venues to protect themselves and EACH OTHER.

OPENING NIGHTS IN LONDON, THE REGIONS AND ON BROADWAY

My running list of openings in London, the regions and on Broadway has been updated. The latest edition is here: http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-jan-31-onwards/

It includes new shows announced at the Old Vic, Shakespeare’s Globe and from Headlong Theatre, amongst others.

REVIEWS ROUND-UP: MJ (Opened February 1 at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre

A musical inspired by the life of the late pop icon, starring newcomer Myles Frost in the title role, has a book by Lynn Nottage, and is directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (whose last Broadway show An American in Paris transferred to the West End).

New York Times (by Jesse Green): “Michael Jackson was such a magnet for strange stories that they nearly obliterated his gift. Yet in defensively brushing off the ones that don’t matter while pointedly ignoring the one that does, the new musical MJ may be the strangest Michael Jackson story yet. Not all strangeness is bad, of course, and within the confines of the biographical jukebox genre, MJ, with a book by Lynn Nottage, is actually pretty good — for a while…. We get the joy of discovery, both of Jackson before the fall and of Myles Frost, a real find in the role. Singing “Beat It” as he enters, Frost offers not just a willowy simulacrum of the star in perfect copies (by the designer Paul Tazewell) of his classic regalia — black jacket, gold brocade, tilted fedora, white socks scrunched to the ankles — but an eerie mimicry of his mannerisms. The breathy voice; the head-down, eyes-up gaze; the interjectory squeals and yelps: Frost has them down cold. Perhaps too cold. Absent any deeper revelation of the singer’s character, Frost’s performance of the songs  soon begins to seem animatronic, as if he were created by Disney imagineers. It doesn’t help that there are so many of them; 37 titles are listed in the program, some barely one-verse samples.”

Variety (by Naveen Kumar): “In answer to the question of whether it’s possible to separate the art from the artist, MJ performs a slick, crotch-grabbing sidestep. Packed with nearly 40 hits from Michael Jackson’s irresistible catalogue, the Broadway production from director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is not so much a biomusical as a high-shine and surface-skimming rehabilitation tour for its late subject, flattening rather than reckoning with his complex legacy…. The demons that Jackson battles in MJ, his father and the media, are figured as monstrous. But if there was darkness behind the angelic falsetto, a mix of light and shadow that made Michael Jackson a singular artist, “MJ” enacts a sleight of hand, insisting it didn’t belong to him. It’s a renouncement worthy enough of a smooth criminal.”

Time Out (Adam Feldman): “Expertly directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, MJ does about as well as possible within its careful brief. In and of itself, it is a deftly crafted jukebox nostalgia trip. Lynn Nottage’s script weaves together three dozen songs, mostly from the Jackson catalog. The music and the dancing are sensational. And isn’t that, the show suggests, really the point in the end? Doesn’t that beat all? MJ is manifestly aimed at people who either believe in Jackson’s innocence or who are able and willing to enjoy his work despite questions about his guilt.  There are many such people, and the production serves them handsomely. The design is deluxe: dazzling period costumes by Paul Tazewell, a smooth set by Derek McLane, flashy lighting by Natasha Katz, vivid arrangements by Jason Michael Webb and David Holcenberg.

Associated Press (Mark Kennedy): “An altogether baffling production… Like Jackson himself, there are moments of sheer genius punctuated by head-scratching weirdness…  It’s curiously muted, shallow writing from playwright Lynn Nottage, someone who previously painted a harrowing picture of violent life in the midst of an African civil war with “Ruined.” The approval of the Michael Jackson estate — prominently trumpeted here — looms large. Nottage and director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon have one of the greatest music catalogues in the world and yet don’t seem to know how to handle it… There are moments that reveal a potentially different show, one less blunt, more stylish and impressionistic. Act II opens with a sort of stripped-down dream sequence of dance, as if Wheeldon had finally wrested the project for himself. It breaks the fourth wall and is tonally like nothing else in the show.”

The Daily Beast (by Tim Teeman): “The key to why MJ is such a disappointing piece of theater—for all its visual dazzle and fantastic singing and dancing—is there in the program: “By special arrangement with the estate of Michael Jackson.” There is nothing surprising in the show. This is a slickly corporate, officially sanctioned slice of legacy clean-up. Two and a half hours of glittery hagiography. If you expect a musical that examines Jackson’s life, controversies, and legacy, forget it. If you want to see anything which even mildly challenges the deification of Jackson, or interrogates his celebrity and actions with depth and nuance, this is not the show for you. If you want to hear a bunch of Jackson’s most famous (and not that famous) songs stitched together with a colorless lack of plot: roll up…. Reviews like this won’t matter; its audience doesn’t want to hear a bad, or even vaguely doubtful, word said about its subject, and its producers hope his most devoted fans will supply the reservoir of ticket buyers. It is far from alone when it comes to unimaginative karaoke nights dressed up as Broadway theater shows. Fan worship is their beating heart… Will every MJ Playbill come with its own amnesia pill? It is not a stroke of genius to excise and erase the last 17 years of Jackson’s life. It is an act of narrative neglect.”

I WANT TO BE A PART OF YOU, NEW YORK, NEW YORK….

I head to New York tomorrow and will be seeing MJ on Friday; I will report here on Monday. There will be no newsletter tomorrow, but I will be back on Friday, around lunchtime UK time.

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