CHICAGO – A major new musical about Michael Jackson – set on the cusp of the iconic but controversial singer’s “Dangerous World Tour” and dealing more fully with his complex legacy than previous endeavors – is headed first to Chicago in the fall and then to Broadway in 2020. Its title, drawn from a 1979 hit single, is to be “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”
The show, scored with Jackson’s music and likely to attract global attention, is produced by the Michael Jackson estate in collaboration with Columbia Live Stage. The book is by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage and the direction and original choreography is by Christopher Wheeldon, the former choreographer for the New York City Ballet who received critical acclaim on Broadway for his work on “An American in Paris.”
“This is not a Cirque du Soleil show, nor a tribute show, nor a hagiography,” said Nottage in an interview Tuesday, referencing two prior Cirque treatments of the Jackson oeuvre. “We are endeavoring to tell the story of one moment in the life of a very complicated man whose life was very fraught.”
That moment surrounds the making of the “Dangerous World Tour,” a 17-month live endeavor that traveled by 747, raised money for Jackson’s Heal the World charity and played to some from 3.5 million people in 70 stadium gigs from Bucharest to Bangkok in 1992 and 1993. It featured video technology far ahead of its time and included some $2 million worth of costumes for its star.
The tour, which included an HBO taping and a Super Bowl XXVII halftime appearance, along with atypically fantastical elements for its era, ended earlier than expected after Jackson, devastated by a civil lawsuit alleging inappropriate behavior with a 13-year-old boy, declared exhaustion. The case was settled out of court.
“We are homing in on the making of the music,” Nottage said, noting that the Jackson estate had allowed her creative freedom and understood that “Michael will always come with some controversy.”
“We are all very clear that we don’t want this to be a concert or an impersonation show,” Wheeldon said, in an earlier interview with the Tribune. “We want it to be a portrait of the artist, a man of contradictions that contained so much beauty. A life like Michael’s was so rich, dense and troubled. But there were these moments of great lightness. We are interested in celebrating Michael, and in breaking down his songs and really listening to them.”
Nottage said that genesis of the tour was selected because it was “the pinnacle of Michael’s career,” following on from such albums and tours as “Thriller,” “Off the Wall” and “Bad,” and containing material from that earlier work.
“We want to look at the pieces of his life that went into selecting his song list,” Nottage said. “What were the ingredients of his genius? I really want to unpack who he was and get inside of the machine. People just don’t know how much Michael was in control of his own art. This image of a gentle, soft-spoken man trumped the reality of a brilliant businessman, producer, songwriter and designer.”
“The mark Michael left on the world,” Wheeldon said, “was one of greatness.”
Casting has not yet been set, nor the number of performers playing Jackson finalized, but there will be more than one adult performer. A young performer will play Jackson as a child, when he first became a global superstar.
“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” will play Chicago’s newly renamed James M. Nederlander Theatre (formerly the Oriental Theatre) beginning Oct. 29 and running through Dec. 1; tickets are not yet on sale. Neither the Broadway theater nor the dates have yet been set, but the show is expected in New York in the spring of 2020.