Arts / Performing Arts

Michael Jackson Musical Brings The Three Sides of a Troubled Pop Star to Texas — MJ The Musical Keeps the Hits Coming

What Playing MJ Is Really Like

BY // 11.13.23

“This role is probably one of the hardest male roles on Broadway right now. It’s a doozy.” So says actor, singer and dancer Jamaal Fields-Green about the role of MJ, aka Michael Jackson, in MJ: The Musical. And Fields-Green should know as he performed as the MJ standby on Broadway and now stars as MJ in the show’s United States tour as it moonwalks into the Texas.

MJ: The Musical shows in Houston at the Hobby Center this Tuesday, November 14 through this Sunday, November 19 and in Dallas at the Music Hall at Fair Park from November 21 through December 3. 

One of the latest in a long line of musical bios that uses the artist’s own songs to tell a life story, the show begins in 1992 in the last days of rehearsal before Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Tour. In the show, Jackson sits down for an interview that becomes a metaphorical man in the mirror look back on how he got there. As MJ reflects, younger versions of himself join him on stage. 

The show presents three different versions of Michael Jackson, with three performers playing each role. Little Michael represents his years growing up in a performance family and especially his time in the Jackson 5. The Michael role depicts his teen years all the way up to the Thriller album. MJ representing the seasoned 1992 version of Michael, narrates his own story and sometimes interacts with his younger selves.

The MJ role is such a doozy that the tour has two dedicated actors for MJ, with Fields-Green designated as the alternate, taking several scheduled performances each week and each city stop on the tour. 

“We’re portraying someone who was a workhorse, a perfectionist and who was so detailed in his craft,’ Fields-Greene says. “The only thing you can do is chase that and try to be as detailed.”

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Brandon Lee Harris as ‘Michael’ Josh A. Dawson as ‘Quincy Jones’ Roman Banks as ‘MJ’ and the cast of the MJ First National Tour
In some scenes, two or three Michaels take the stage together. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Fields-Green performed as a standby on Broadway for both the MJ and Michael roles. He ended up playing both many times. He says being on call for either role made him a stronger performer. 

“Getting to know multiple versions of MJ in his life only furthered my knowledge of his work,” he says. Fields-Green laughs.

“Of course, the jumping back and forth could sometimes get a little confusing,” he admits. “But honestly playing any of the roles, playing Michael Jackson in general, is hard work. We’re given the task to play one of the best of all time.” 

An actor, writer and even short film director, Fields-Green has taken on many different roles in his career. He played John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in Hamilton in Chicago and has done television work. But Fields-Green says he actually started preparing for the role of Michael Jackson while growing up in the Bronx.

“I used to do ‘Beat It,’ ‘Billy Jean,’ ‘Thriller’ and ‘You Rock My World’ for my family in the living room,” he says. “My grandpa was my D.J.”

When I ask if he used Jackson’s choreography from the videos for these family performances, Fields-Green says he did, but adds with a laugh, “I liked to say I was my own choreographer.”

Beyond a Jukebox Musical

Discussing how some of those beloved song he performed for his family as a kid are used in the show, Fields-Green insists that the musical does a lot more than recreate iconic Michael Jackson performances. Instead, the songs are used to further the story and explore the emotional evolution of the real-life characters, especially Jackson. Fields-Green gives a lot of credit for that narrative depth to Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage, who wrote the “impeccable” Michael Jckson book.

“It’s such a tight-knit story that it doesn’t feel like a jukebox musical,” Fields-Green says. “The story’s so well told, and at least half, if not more, of the songs are used to further the story.”

A prime example of a song that is used for character development and an emotional reveal is “I’ll Be There.”

“It’s sung between MJ, his mother and his younger self Little Michael,” Fields-Greene notes. “It starts with Little Michael and his mother Katherine, and then in the middle of the song we shift and it’s MJ singing to his mother and Katherine in return singing to him. But it started with her singing to Little Michael, comforting him.”

The show also uses the songs to highlight Michael Jackson’s creative process as an artist.

“There’s an entire section going into “Smooth Criminal” where we breakdown three of his dance heroes, which are Fred Astaire, the Nicholas Brothers and Bob Fosse,” Fields-Greene says. “He gets to have a dance-off with each of them. But it also shows his influences and how he took these old styles, combined them and created something of his own.

“It’s one of my favorite moments in the show getting to know MJ on an artistic side as well.”

Josiah Benson as ‘Little Michael’ and Anastasia Talley as ‘Katherine Jackson’ in the MJ First National Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy, MurphyMade
Josiah Benson as ‘Little Michael’ and Anastasia Talley as ‘Katherine Jackson’ (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Fields-Green wouldn’t go into details because he didn’t want to spoil one of the most resonating moments of MJ: The Musical, but he would say the performance of the song “Thriller” is definitely not just a recreation of the iconic zombie-inspired video. As a whole, the number delivers quite the emotional impact. 

“There’s a whole story tied to it that’s very moving,” Fields-Greene teases. 

Fields-Green other big musical roles have kept him in New York and Chicago, but he says he has started to get a feel for life on the road. 

“One of the plus sides of touring is the different houses. I nerd out seeing the different architecture,” he says, noting that some of the venues on this tour are larger than the Broadway theaters. He enjoys performing in front of the bigger and new audiences with each stop. 

“How do you keep a show fresh after doing it so many times?” Fields-Greene says. “Sometimes having different audiences can enable an actor to make different choices or dive deeper into the world we’re making for the audience in that moment.”

Having never visited Houston or Dallas, Fields-Green also sends out a bit of a challenge as he gets ready to hit the Lone Star State. 

“I heard it’s bigger in Texas,” he quips. “So I’m looking forward to seeing that.” 

MJ: The Musical runs as part of Broadway at the Hobby Center series this Tuesday, November 14 through Sunday, November 19 in Houston and the Broadway Dallas series November 21 through December 3 at the Music Hall at Fair Park. 

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