After 'Leaving Neverland', Michael Jackson Musical Should Be Cancelled...Right?

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The following was published on January 27th, 2019.

Last week, it was officially announced that a Michael Jackson musical would be making its way to Broadway next year. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” is set to open its out-of-town tryout in Chicago on Oct 29th with plans to move to New York in Spring 2020.

However, should plans for the upcoming show be altered considering the detailed sexual abuse allegations in a new documentary?

Dan Reed’s “Leaving Neverland” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and reports coming from those who have viewed it, say it’s shocking. The film focuses on two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who claimed that Michael Jackson had abused them as children.

The film contains graphic details of the alleged abuse both men suffered when they were the ages of 10 and younger. In the film, both men admit it took years for them to come to terms of what happened to them, something not uncommon for sex abuse victims. While both men sought legal action against the Jackson estate, both their cases were dismissed in court.

While it’s been ten years since Jackson’s death, allegations of sexual abuse by him are still memorable. Jackson was first accused of child sexual abuse in 1993 by 13-year-old Jordan Chandler. While he was investigated, he was never indicted, though he did pay Jordan and his family $22 million to settle a related civil case in 1994.

A decade later, in November 2003, Jackson was arrested and charged with seven counts of child molestation and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent. He was acquitted on all counts in June 2005.

But Robson and Safechuck’s claims have never been made public before and both men even admit they were instructed to lie on Jackson’s behalf in regards to those earlier cases.

Given these new details, which the Jackson estate is denying, and the reported “shell-shocked” reaction from the audience that viewed the film, what does this mean for the upcoming musical? Should producers put the brakes on the project? Cancel it all together? Or weather the PR storm and go full throttle with their plans.

What does this mean for Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, who is writing the book for the musical? Or Christopher Wheeldon who is choreographing it?

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Nottage stated, “We are interested in celebrating Michael, and in breaking down his songs and really listening to them” but also said “Michael will always come with some controversy.”

It was noted that the Jackson estate gave Nottage complete creative freedom to craft the show, but I doubt highly they would allow her to include anything damaging to the man, which probably means glossing over any allegations of sexual abuse.

I have always thought of Lynn Nottage as having the utmost integrity, but given these new allegations, can she stand by a project that is set to be a celebration of this man? Then again, if the money is right, anyone can stand by anything these days.

I’ll be the first person to admit that my feelings on Michael Jackson have been complicated. I was a fan of his music. “Thriller”, to me, remains a work of musical production art. But at the same time, I understood that the artist could have used his fame and artistry to do some terrible things.

So should producers change their plans to open this show next year? I highly doubt they will. But I do think the creatives need to seriously consider what type of show this needs to be. Because one that is just pure celebratory might be strike the best tone.

“Leaving Neverland” is set to air on HBO in April.

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UPDATE 3/5/19

Well HBO decided to drop “Leaving Neverland” a month early. Possibly because the Jackson estate was trying to block the release. But the film truly exceeded every bit of my awful expectations of it. It’s sobering. It’s difficult to watch. I had to take breaks several times.

I just don’t see how the Broadway community can welcome a Michael Jackson musical next year. It shouldn’t happen at all. I love Lynn Nottage but as I said earlier; because the Jackson family is deeply involved with this project, there is no way it’s going to cover and discuss these issues the way they need to be talked about. If Lynn Nottage has any integrity, she will walk away from the paycheck and depart this production and the Broadway community needs to make sure this musical never opens on 42nd St.