5Q: MJ: The Musical

Michael Jackson with dance ensemble. in "MJ: The Musical".
Photo by Matthew Murphy, MurphyMade

The latest jukebox musical sensation gives an intimate view into the creative process of one of the greatest entertainers of all time, and it’s set to make its Twin Cities premiere at the Orpheum Theatre.

MJ: The Musical gives audiences a look at Michael Jackson in a Los Angeles rehearsal studio as he prepares for the 1992 Dangerous World Tour. While the King of Pop and his team prepare their setlist, audiences are given a backward glimpse into pivotal moments from his early career. The 1992 setting allows script writer Lynn Nottage to avoid exploring some of the more troubling and controversial events that plagued Jackson later in his career that could have ended up preventing her “Special Arrangement with the Estate of Michael Jackson.”

Devin Bowles performs dual roles: first, as the stern Jackson patriarch, Joe, exploring his marital discords and militant managerial style of his children; second as MJ’s tour director, Rob, in the contentious rehearsal scenes.

Devin Bowes
Provided by Hennepin Theatre Trust

Everyone has their own attachment or relationship to Michael Jackson’s story and music. What does his legacy mean to you?

For me, Michael’s legacy goes beyond his music and his story; it’s actually his work ethic and his want to become the greatest. Michael knew that ideas he had were spectacular and he knew that it would take deliberate and hard work to achieve the heights he wanted to achieve. He was a firm believer in manifestation: he saw himself doing things, winning awards, creating ideas, and, in due time, they were all achieved.

This musical isn’t a complete biopic the way other jukebox musicals tend to be, but rather focuses on a specific period of preparation for the Dangerous Tour. How does the show’s focus around this particular moment give audiences a deeper understanding of Michael Jackson?

At this specific moment, we really have the ability to dive into the creative side of Michael’s legacy. This is a time where Michael has already experienced some hardships in his life, and we actually have the ability to dive into his inner artistry and see what it takes to produce, at the time, one of the most expensive and elaborate world tours to ever exist from an artist. You can get to see all the choreography, hear all the iconic songs, and really get a taste of the delicate and humorous human that Michael Jackson was. 

Given the number of tours and important moments in his life, what do you think is the significance or purpose of positioning this storyline in this particular era?

This Dangerous World Tour, in my opinion, was the pinnacle of Michael’s humanitarian side, which was his Heal The World Foundation. Michael went on to explain the sole purpose of touring, once again, was to raise funds, to bring awareness, to also aid those who are in need around the world. This allows us to experience Michael as a more intimate, purposeful, and caring artist.

Rob and Michael Jackson in "MJ: The Musical".

You play dual roles as both his father and his tour director. What’s it like to portray two very different men during the course of the show and what nuances do you explore in each of these roles?

Playing two roles for me is very artistically challenging and also fulfilling, having the opportunity to play two men who have pivotal roles in Michael’s process and this manifesting of his work. Society has somewhat villainized Joe Jackson for some of his infamous behavior, and we get a chance to see Michael and how he navigated through those times of his life. We also get to see Rob, who plays Michael‘s right-hand man, manager, choreographer. We get to see him sort of slow Michael down, and really think about his well-being and explore the organization of this tour, which holds so much importance to him. Both of these characters produce a powerful contrast that pushes the story and gives this show nuance and its navigation. 

Playing real people is always a balancing act of not imitating or creating a caricature. What is your process to get into character and bring an authentic approach to these men?

My specific process with playing real people, and also telling a story in which the world knows, is to always start with the foundation of being a human–to try to remove all the stereotypes and play with the human emotions that our tremendous writer, Lynn Nottage, has provided the bone structures for. To realize these characters are human first and they experience situations, predicaments, circumstances, and to see them live fully in this world is where I start when it comes to portraying real-life people.

MJ runs at the Orpheum Theatre from May 1426. For more information and to purchase tickets, head to www.hennepintheatretrust.org.

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