MJ The Musical has found its Michael Jackson: Ephraim Sykes.
If there's anyone who's up to the task, it's easily Sykes. The Tony-nominated triple threat has proved his mettle time and again in six Broadway shows. No stranger to the soul and pop genres, he was in the casts of Memphis and Motown The Musical, and is currently starring as David Ruffin in Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations.
And while his vocals soar and croon with incredible tear-you-apart conviction, he's even more of a dancer—the kind that's charismatic but with the technical chops to back it up. (He studied in the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University B.F.A. program and danced in Ailey II.)
Professionally, he's been put to the test in two of the danciest musicals of the last 10 years, having mastered Christopher Gattelli's endlessly crisp leaps and turns in Newsies The Musical and Andy Blankenbuehler's suave brand of contemporary-meets-hip-hop in Hamilton's original cast. Earlier this year, he nabbed a Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway Show for his role in Ain't Too Proud.
So, yes, we're excited to see Sykes continue to succeed in his career.
But his next step, as Michael Jackson, will come under greater scrutiny. Already, MJ The Musical has faced many difficulties, most notably its canceled pre-Broadway Chicago run following the release of the documentary Leaving Neverland, which explored accusations that Jackson sexually abused children.
That could be enough to kill a production outright, but the creative team of writer Lynn Nottage and director–choreographer Christopher Wheeldon have pressed on. According to The New York Times, MJ recently wrapped an eight-week work session, which Sykes participated in during the day. Each night, he returned to the Ain't Too Proud stage.
While we're excited to see Sykes take on Wheeldon's choreography, we're more curious to see how MJ The Musical will address these allegations. They certainly can't be ignored, nor should they, but we'd hate to see Sykes rising star tarnished by association.
MJ The Musical will start previews July 6 at the Neil Simon Theater.