The Red Carpet at the opening night of MJ on Feb. 1 at the Neil Simon Theatre on W 52nd Street was filled with cast and celebrities who came out to support the opening of one of the most anticipated Broadway musicals of the season. There was such a feeling of excitement in the air as people came down the Red Carpet to share why they were there and what a musical about music icon Michael Jackson means on Broadway.
Antoine L. Smith, who plays Berry Gordy and Nick, shared what it means to him to be a part of MJ. “It means so much being from Gary Indiana and having known about the Jackson’s my entire life and having my family go to school with some of the Jacksons. It is a full circle moment that I will never take for granted.” The most important message of the musical according to Smith is, “The compassion, the love, truly everyone needs respect and kindness.” In terms of what the audience may come away with, Smith said, “I expect them to make their own decisions from what they see on stage. So many times people are basing decisions on what they don’t know, but when they come see the show they will make their own decisions about things they’ve heard about.” The musical is about the process and Smith said, “I love it because it’s based on his artistry and how phenomenal of an artist this man was. So to delve into that so intimately, it’s just so beautiful.”
Quentin Earl Darrington, plays Joe Jackson and Rob the director. When preparing to do the role of Joe Jackson, he shared that he did quite a lot of research. “There are several books about Michael Jackson and his family that I read. I viewed lots of interviews of Joe Jackson and listened to him speak and saw his tone, his ways, although it’s never to imitate exactly what he did. It’s watching YouTube clips, documentaries. That’s how I do my research. Joe Jackson was a very strong character and nothing would have happened with this family without him,” Darrington said.
Renni Anthony Magee, a Swing in MJ is in many of the dance numbers. Talking about the work, he excitedly said, “It’s ridiculous, it’s a dream. We’re here, you do what you can. You do your best.” Talking about his journey to get here, he shared, “I’ve been wanting to do Broadway since I was born. I was obsessed with Michael Jackson since I was a kid and to have this be my first Broadway musical is something special.” When people see the musical, Magee said, “I want them to remember how much of an angel Michael was. He was human, but he was an angel and I don’t think the world was ready for him at the time. But now I think the world is and it’s never too late. We’re here and we’re sharing his legacy and I think people will understand how wonderful a human, an artist he actually was. I am very much a Christian and when I see the journey that God has taken me on, I never got to know him or perform with him, but to be here now!”
Darius Wright, also a Swing in the musical, shared how wonderful he feels when he dances and uses his body as an instrument. “It feels really good.” Concerning the message for people to take away from the musical, he said, “Just how much love Michael Jackson put into his music. That’s why we listen to it at home, in the car, and we can’t help but feel the love that he put into his music. I hope that people take that with them. I hope they also take the love that we put into the show. I feel that we’re here and his spirit moves through us and we are here to filter that energy out back to the world and I’m happy to do that.
Aramie Payton, Swing and standby for Michael was thrilled to share. “It’s fun, it’s a dream come true. I’ve been wanting to do a tribute to Michael in this way, for a very long time. To do it and to step into his shoes, literally, is quite epic and still surreal, but very, very fun.” In developing his character Payton stated that he wanted “to bring out his humanity, I think that because he was a giant we often idolize him and forget that he was a human being, a Black man. This show lets you go inside his life and see him as a man, he has the same heartache and struggles and he handled them with grace while the whole world was watching.” Talking about Lynn Nottage’s script, Payton remarked, “As an actor her script lays the foundation of course, but there’s so much depth.”
Spike Lee was on hand and shared that he’s been going to Broadway shows since he was a child. He came out tonight because, “Michael Jackson on Broadway is very important, he was one of the giants and I’m here to support it!” Of playwright Lynn Nottage Lee proclaimed, “she is a writer on my show ‘She’s Got To Have It,’ so Lynn is killing it, she’s a dynamo!”
Singer Freddie Jackson was there to support the show and shared a personal story of him being offered the chance to meet Michael Jackson in a hotel. He told the person that he knew Michael liked to scare people and he told them tell him not to scare him because he’s from the Hood and he might have to beat someone up. When he got in the room, he heard a soft voice call “Freddie, are you there?” He said he told Michael, “Oh you got my message.” “The message that I want people to take away, is how incredible he is and he’s still here, the good part. I want people to remember Michael,” Jackson said.
“Thoughts of a Colored Man” playwright Keenan Scott II was also out to support the show. “I think that all stories get to the human condition. I haven’t seen the show yet, but I pray that we walk away learning about who the man was. I know this is a complex story, this man created art that transcended time, age, and gender. He created such great art that will outlive us all.” With regards to this being a piece from Lynn Nottage, Scott said, “Lynn is a living legend and to be able to call her a peer and a colleague, it’s phenomenal! You always expect the deep human story when it comes to Lynn. She always seems to be able to say what makes us human, what makes us unique.”
Rev. Al Sharpton, President of the National Action Network and host of “Politics Nation” on MSNBC, personally knew Michael Jackson and his family. He shared the importance of this musical being on Broadway, “Because I think past all the controversies his music is his legacy and it’s important for his music to be on Broadway. You don’t want to deny a generation to see the music of Michael Jackson. I want the public to know as a man Michael Jackson was a serious perfectionist who wanted to please the public and even though he’s gone, the public is lined up tonight to see this musical.”
Lynn Nottage, playwright of MJ, always makes it her mission to do these in-depth pieces about our people, when asked what’s her drive she responded, “Part of my artistic vision is to do centerstage stories that have not traditionally been highlighted and as a Black woman we have through our history been marginalized. So, my mission is to rescue us from the archive and tell our stories.”