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Michael Jackson musical's pre-Broadway run canceled amid latest scandal

Michael Jackson musical's pre-Broadway run canceled amid latest scandal
Michael Jackson performs during the Dangerous World Tour. (Peter Still / Redferns / Getty Images / TNS)

The new stage musical inspired by the life of Michael Jackson has hit a snag on its way to Broadway amid renewed scrutiny of the pop star’s legacy.

Three weeks ago, the Michael Jackson estate and Columbia Live Stage announced that the production, “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” would debut in October at the James M. Nederlander Theatre in Chicago, and then head to Broadway in spring 2020.

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However, that five-week run in Chicago has been scrapped, producers announced Thursday. The musical — directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, and featuring a book by Lynn Nottage — will now head straight to Broadway in summer 2020 for its world premiere. A specific theater and date have not yet been announced.

Thursday’s announcement attributed the cancellation of the pre-Broadway engagement in Chicago to scheduling difficulties brought about by the recent Actors’ Equity strike.

However, days after announcing the musical’s debut dates, the documentary series “Leaving Neverland” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Dan Reed, the project unpacks in explicit detail the allegations of two adult men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege they suffered years of sexual abuse at Jackson's hands when they were boys. The 233-minute, two-part documentary was shown only once at Sundance ahead of its premiere on HBO and British public broadcaster Channel 4 in March.

Subject Wade Robson, director Dan Reed, and subject James Safechuck from the documentary "Leaving Neverland," which made headlines upon debuting at the Sundance Film Festival.
Subject Wade Robson, director Dan Reed, and subject James Safechuck from the documentary "Leaving Neverland," which made headlines upon debuting at the Sundance Film Festival. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“Michael Jackson is our brother and son,” Jackson’s family said in a statement to The Times after the series’ headline-making debut. “We are furious that the media, who without a shred of proof or single piece of physical evidence, chose to believe the word of two admitted liars over the word of hundreds of families and friends around the world who spent time with Michael, many at Neverland, and experienced his legendary kindness and global generosity.”

Jackson’s controversial past is to be included in “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.” It will be set against the making of his ambitious Dangerous World Tour, the 17-month, 70-stadium jaunt for charity that featured groundbreaking video technology, costly costumes, an HBO taping and a Super Bowl XXVII halftime appearance. The tour infamously ended abruptly once Jackson declared exhaustion, shortly after a civil lawsuit against him alleging inappropriate behavior with a 13-year-old boy.

Michael Jackson's Dangerous tour is the setting of the upcoming Broadway-bound musical.
Michael Jackson's Dangerous tour is the setting of the upcoming Broadway-bound musical. (Jeff Widerner / Associated Press)

In a statement to The Times, the Actors' Equity Assn. clarified that the 33-day Equity strike ended Feb. 8, and its developmental contract for the musical began Feb. 11, the date originally advertised when producers first put out an audition call last fall.

“The developmental lab that was scheduled for this production was delayed by 12 working days during the strike,” Brandon Lorenz, the Actors’ Equity Assn.’s communications director, said in the statement. “It is difficult to understand how a modest delay in February would impact a run that was scheduled for late October.”

“It’s incredibly disappointing that the actors and stage managers who are currently working to develop this project were not informed about a major production change before a public media announcement was made,” Lorenz added.

Though the new musical’s Broadway debut has only been pushed back a few months, it’s a notable delay. Each Broadway season, dictated by an immovable Tony Awards eligibility cutoff date, closes at the end of April. That means this new debut date bumps it out of the 2019-20 season and into the 2020-21 season, and, therefore, makes it eligible to be up for the Tonys ceremony that takes place in June 2021.

Shipping the show straight to Broadway might seem like a vote of confidence in the material. Yet it’s actually quite rare for a commercial production to be unveiled for the very first time on Broadway, as a pre-Broadway run often helps creatives mitigate the risk factor by testing material on audiences and making adjustments before the show is then locked into its Broadway debut.

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“We are endeavoring to tell the story of one moment in the life of a very complicated man whose life was very fraught,” Nottage previously told the Chicago Tribune. “Michael will always come with some controversy.”

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