A spotlight centered on a sparkling, silver glove with cartoon-like eyeballs and a red mouth.
“The truth must be told, I have to be bold,” he sang, with a smooth, breathy tenor. “I’m the bad ... who made Michael Jackson the world’s greatest superstar.”
This was the opening moment of “For the Love of a Glove,” a new expletive-laced musical parody playing its world-premiere run through March 8 at the Center for Inquiry West in Los Angeles. The production — which made headlines in November when it was widely misreported that Johnny Depp is a producer (he is not) — spans the early years of Jackson’s career, from the perspective of his anthropomorphized accessory.
“The glove is a way to deal with Michael’s Jungian shadows,” said director Julien Nitzberg, who also wrote the show’s book and lyrics. “This is not, like, dumb comedy that’s making fun of Michael. It’s actually a very complex piece dealing with racism, cultural appropriation, sexual subjugation of certain religions, but in a humorous way.”
Not everyone will agree, as “For the Love of a Glove” doesn’t pull any punches. The second song — about how Jackson’s home state of Indiana boasted the largest Ku Klux Klan membership in history — had performers harmonizing in white hoods and, at one point, simulating lynching in a dance move.
The third song explained how parents who violently discipline their children are performing an act of love rooted in religion. “When God let them torture his only son, he was showing us how parenting oughta be done,” sang Jackson’s father. (The kids are represented by life-size puppets in an effort to play child beatings for laughs.)
“Oh, my God,” one woman said with a laugh during the opening-night performance, adding an unprintable variation of “this is so messed up” after the eyebrow-raising, head-shaking, R-rated satire. This is the stuff of “Family Guy” cutaways and “Saturday Night Live” sketches that don’t make it out of the writers room. But can these gasp-inducing gags fill a 2 ½-hour musical?
After a gospel hymn about Jackson being a Jehovah’s Witness — the show contends that believers think masturbation leads to homosexuality because the person is being pleasured by a hand not belonging to the opposite sex — a lot of time was spent explaining the origin of Jackson’s glove. It turns out he’s a scintillating alien named Thrihl-Lha (played by comedian Jerry Minor) who accidentally crashed into Earth.
Thrihl-Lha and his four siblings feed off the bodily fluids of virgins and have the power to infuse even its most tone-deaf providers with unmatched musical talent. The discovery has Jackson’s father seeing dollar signs and persuading the creatures to masquerade as gloves worn by five of his kids.
The story goes on to attribute all the actions of Jackson (played by Eric B. Anthony) — acclaimed and alleged — on Thrihl-Lha. He’s the source of Michael’s singing voice, the creator of his dance moves, the unnamed co-writer of his hits (mainstream pop songs instead of politically charged tunes, which is what he really wanted to perform, apparently).
In “For the Love of a Glove,” it’s Disco Hamburger Helper’s idea to host sleepovers with boys so that his starving siblings can suck the children’s blood while they sleep. Jackson repeatedly rejects the suggestion and instead offers his chimp Bubbles, but eventually he agrees and a sleepover scene features puppet versions of Emmanuel Lewis and Corey Feldman.
Nitzberg, who also penned the 2006 political parody “The Beastly Bombing” — told The Times that the production has the green light from “Leaving Neverland” subject Wade Robson, a friend of the show’s choreographer, Cris Judd.
By rooting Jackson’s celebrated and controversial qualities to a glove, Nitzberg said, the story can be critical about how his family’s strict religious practices, and his Mozart-Salieri rivalry with frenemy Donny Osmond, may have affected him. (Displays in the lobby and a director’s note in the program stress Nitzberg’s research.)
It’s a supposition that, at first, seems to let Jackson off the hook. When Thrihl-Lha hits Brooke Shields in the face numerous times, Jackson simply tells her, “It’s a naughty glove.”
Here, the King of Pop is blissfully ignorant and easily swayed; he cannot be blamed for harming another person because it’s not him actually doing it. But in real life, because Jackson wasn’t brainwashed by an alien, the audience is left to contemplate the atrocities of which he is accused.
The approach gets convoluted as “For the Love of a Glove” offers other commentary. The show also skewers the music industry’s “Pat Boone-ing” practices (white musicians rerecording songs first performed by black artists), Americans’ affinity to play the victim in absolutely any situation, and a culture that all but requires black men to, when angry, employ a calm “Diana Ross voice” so they don’t seem threatening.
And when Jackson learns of his chronic skin condition and contemplates trying brighteners, he’s told his life would be easier if he were to become white. (The number about how police officers and old ladies will treat him better elicited laughs, but there was something unsettling about a nearly all-white audience chuckling at jokes about black male genitalia.)
An eleventh-hour plot point put the glove on his deathbed. “Peter Pan” may tell theatergoers to save Tinker Bell with their applause, but in “For the Love of a Glove” Jackson crassly asked the audience to masturbate with him.
“Grab your crotches with me, please!” he pleaded before putting his hand down his pants.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, and 5 p.m. Sundays, through March 8 (check for exceptions.)
Tickets: $50-$69 (subject to change)
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
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