Christopher Wheeldon is going to be giving Michael Jackson some new moves: The Royal Ballet artistic associate is bringing the King of Pop to Broadway.
The unlikely pairing was announced today by Jackson's estate. Wheeldon will serve as both director and choreographer for the new musical inspired by Michael Jackson's life, which is aiming for a 2020 Broadway opening. This will be Wheeldon's second time directing and choreographing, following 2015's Tony Award-winning An American in Paris.
Wheeldon is a surprising choice, to say the least. There are many top choreographers who worked with Jackson directly, like Wade Robson and Brian Friedman, who could have been tapped for the project. Or the production could have even hired someone who actually choreographed on Jackson when he was alive, like Buddha Stretch.
Christopher Wheeldon creating Bound To for San Francisco Ballet. Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB
Few other details have been announced so far, but The Hollywood Reporter notes that, "The musical will draw its score from Jackson's extensive catalog, which ranges from his Motown hits as a child in the Jackson 5 through era-defining solo albums that sold millions and changed the course of pop and R&B history, chief among them Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad."
The book for the show will be written by none other than Lynn Nottage, who's won two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama for her work on Ruined and Sweat. Although jukebox musicals focused on one musical artist seem to be a dime a dozen these days (see: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Escape to Margaritaville, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical and many others coming up in the Broadway pipeline), Nottage will no doubt bring some serious gravitas to the form.
Our biggest question, of course, is what Wheeldon will do with Jackson's many iconic dance moves—starting with the moonwalk. And...who's gonna play MJ?
The cast of Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise in rehearsal. Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy The Shed
Akram Khan loves to dive into genres he is unfamiliar with. While his own movement vocabulary is a hybrid of kathak and contemporary dance, he has choreographed a new Giselle for English National Ballet, collaborated with flamenco artist Israel Galván and made a dance theater duet with film star Juliette Binoche. Now, in between touring Xenos, his final full-length solo, and several other projects, he's found time to tackle kung fu. Khan is part of the collaborative team behind Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, a blockbuster musical based on themes of migration and the fight for survival, running June 22–July 27. Directed by Chen Shi-Zheng and featuring a score that remixes songs by Sia, it's part of the inaugural season of The Shed, a new venue in New York City.