MJ the Musical Explores Michael Jackson's Complex Legacy in Denver | Westword

MJ Explores Michael Jackson's Complex Legacy

The Tony Award-winning musical delves into the creative process behind the King of Pop's 1992 Dangerous World Tour.
MJ runs in Denver through April 28.
MJ runs in Denver through April 28. Courtesy of Matthew Murphy
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Despite his extraordinary artistic achievements, Michael Jackson's legacy is not without controversy, but audiences can expect a deeper exploration of the King of Pop's alleged pill-popping and drastic change of appearance in MJ, the multiple Tony Award-winning musical that delves into the creative process behind the 1992 Dangerous World Tour.

"We all know Michael Jackson's music, legacy and talent, but one of the beautiful things about MJ is that the show allows audiences to get a chance to see how his mind works," says actor Devin Bowles, who plays Joseph Jackson and Rob. "Since you are watching them prepare the Dangerous Tour before it hits the road, you get to see what Michael [played by Roman Banks] decides to cut and what he keeps. You see how others in the room influence him, and the audience leaves with a new perception of Michael because they get to see how his brain works and what inspired their favorite song and dance moves."

The musical, which runs through April 28 at the Buell Theatre, celebrates Jackson's musical genius while acknowledging the shadows that follow fame. MJ has wowed audiences from Broadway to London's West End and received a standing ovation on its opening night in Denver, thanks to a star-studded creative team that includes director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage.

"This creative team is so talented," Bowles says. "When you place all these people in one room, it's bound to breed a beautiful show like we have now. I just can't thank them enough for taking a chance on me and allowing me to carry this role and kind of co-lead this show."
click to enlarge a scene from a michael jackson musical
Roman Banks plays Michael Jackson in MJ.
Courtesy of Matthew Murphy
Bowles, a Tennessee native with a rich theater background, including roles in the Off-Broadway production of Kinky Boots and Signature Theatre's regional production of RENT, is thrilled to be making his touring debut with MJ. "This is such a blessing," he says. "It’s my first time touring, which has brought its challenges, but to be able to take this show on the road with this role, musical and community has been so special."

His dual roles as Joseph Jackson, Michael's explosive father, and Rob, the mild-mannered Dangerous Tour director, allow him to focus on the contrast between these two men and their treatment of Michael. Rather than pass judgment on these individuals, Bowles seeks to portray them as humanely as possible.

"Even though Joe Jackson has been pretty villainized, you have to start by thinking about him as a real person, because the foundation of Joseph is that he is a human who has been placed in a certain situation," he explains. "I studied Joe and how he used to carry on conversations in interviews to make sure his mannerisms were accurate. Then you take Rob, who is the complete contrast: He's Michael’s right-hand man who is always worrying about the well-being of Michael, and he's very organized. Playing with that contrast every night is really exciting."

This is Bowles's first time working in Denver, and while he's been here, he's also checked off a bucket list item by performing the national anthem at the Rockies game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 10. "I’ve sung at a lot of college basketball, football and baseball games back in Tennessee, but it's my first time doing a Major League Baseball team," he says. "Hopefully, there's more down the road, but it's just something I love to do. I love putting my Southern R&B rendition on the anthem and am honored to do it for the Rockies."
click to enlarge headshot of a black male actor
Devin Bowles plays Joseph Jackson and Rob.
Courtesy of Devin Bowles

Despite not growing up with Michael Jackson’s music as a central influence, Bowles has gained a profound respect for the superstar's legacy and work ethic through his involvement in the show. "Being in the show has given me a perspective on his legacy and his artistry," Bowles says. "Michael Jackson had a vision for himself; he wrote down notes for his future about how he wanted to be one of the world’s greatest entertainers, and it came to fruition. Along with a new perspective on his music, I've also come to appreciate his work ethic and ambition."

He notes that the musical seeks to transcend generational divides, appealing to longtime fans while introducing the uninitiated to Jackson. As Bowles aptly puts it, "The show is for everyone."

"For the audience that was around then, there is stuff from the early days of his career, like the Jackson Five," he concludes. "And for the younger generation, who know Michael from his fashion and choreography, that's all here, too."

MJ the Musical runs through Sunday, April 28, Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 1400 Curtis Street. Get tickets at denvercenter.org.
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