MJ the Musical has been met with high praise and critical acclaim since its debut on Dec. 6, 2021. The show produced by the Michael Jackson Estate has made its way from Broadway in New York to Broadway in Chicago. The high-energy production is centered around the making of Michael Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous World Tour. The actor selected to portray the icon was kept under wraps until June 6, 2023. Roman Banks, 24, auditioned for the role a year earler and was finally able to announce to the world that he will play Michael Jackson. Rolling out spoke with Banks about his new role, the preparation it took and what people can expect from the production.
How does it feel to be able to share the news?
Today, especially, it feels real. I found [out] this news about nine months ago. I didn’t show my photo to any of my friends or family because I wanted us to celebrate this moment together. Michael was just so magnificent and to be embraced today, not only by friends and family but by fans of Michael is what feels the most magical. I’m just trying to work as hard as I can to harness all of this and deliver night after night.
How has the preparation been?
It’s been intense. Every week we’re doing ballet, we’re doing dance sessions anywhere from two to four hours. We’re doing vocal lessons, gym training sessions, dialect coaching and 30-minute stretch sessions.
There’s a lot of work inside and outside of the room. It never stops because even when I go home I watch clips. I’m reading his autobiography Moonwalk. It doesn’t feel like work and that’s where the love of the dream comes into play. Where you can take deep dives into people who were so influential and had such impact on your life that it almost feels like a really long art project and I’m really grateful for that.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in preparing for the role?
Michael was so specific and intentional in his movement. I’ve never seen him do a move that didn’t have intention behind it. There was energy behind it. You have to convey that in the way that you move. It’s taken a lot of grit and a lot of repetition, but it’s finally starting to settle in. It feels good when your body just does it. True freedom and artistic expression is when you’ve practiced with so much repetition that you find freedom.
What can people expect from this production?
You can expect to walk away with a different sense of somebody you thought you already knew so well. I love that we humanize Michael in this show. I hope that we show people a different [side] of him and I hope they come ready to have fun with us. I want people to bring all the energy they can muster.
MJ the Musical is playing at the James M. Nederlander Theatre in Chicago Aug. 1 through Sept. 2, 2023.
Get tickets here.