Broadway’s Michael Jackson: ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ Star Ephraim Sykes
The Michael Jackson musical has found its King of Pop.
Ephraim Sykes, a limber-legged, scene-stealing, Tony-nominated performer in “Ain’t Too Proud,” will jump from one jukebox musical to another when he stars in “MJ the Musical,” which is scheduled to open on Broadway next summer.
Sykes, a 34-year-old from St. Petersburg, Fla., is a gifted dancer who was trained at the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University B.F.A. program, toured with the Ailey II company for two years, and this year was named the outstanding male dancer in a Broadway show at the Chita Rivera Awards, which honor dance in theater and film.
He has appeared in six Broadway musicals, beginning as a replacement member of the ensemble in “The Little Mermaid,” and he was a member of the original Broadway cast of “Hamilton.” In “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” he has his first major role, portraying David Ruffin, who was one of the group’s lead singers.
“MJ the Musical” arrives at a challenging time for the pop singer’s legacy, which has been tarnished by renewed allegations that he sexually abused young boys. But he remains acknowledged as one of the greatest American pop artists ever; his songs continue to be ubiquitous and his fan base intense, and the musical’s producers, after canceling a pre-Broadway run in Chicago, have determinedly pushed toward a Broadway opening.
Earlier this month the production finished an eight-week work session in New York, with Sykes leading the cast during the day while continuing to perform in “Ain’t Too Proud” at night. It was the show’s third and final developmental workshop; now the writers will revise the material in anticipation of rehearsals starting in May.
The lead producers are Lia Vollack and the Michael Jackson Estate. Vollack, who previously headed Columbia Live Stage, the theatrical division of Sony Pictures Entertainment, recently formed her own production company; Columbia Live Stage and Sony Music, which was Jackson’s longtime record label, remain investors in the musical.
The show, which will feature many of Jackson’s best known songs, both as a solo artist and as a member of the Jackson 5, has a highly regarded creative team: the book is by Lynn Nottage, a playwright who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize, and the show is directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, an English ballet dancer and choreographer who won a Tony Award for “An American in Paris.”
Nottage and Wheeldon said earlier this year that they were wrestling with how best to represent the complexities of Jackson’s life and legacy in the show, which is set in 1992, as Jackson was preparing for a tour to promote his “Dangerous” album. Since that interview, the show has declined to offer any specifics about whether and how the musical might reference the abuse allegations or other issues that have complicated how Jackson is now viewed.
“The production is not commenting on the content of show as it is in development,” said a spokesman, Rick Miramontez.
Audition notices suggest that, in addition to the adult Jackson, anticipated characters include Jackson at age 10; Jackson in his late teens and early 20s; a female documentary filmmaker and journalist; Jackson’s father Joseph, and Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown.
“MJ the Musical” is scheduled to begin previews July 6 and to open Aug. 13 at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theater.
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