It’s early yet to determine exactly what the Michael Jackson musical will look like when it hits Broadway (projected to bow in 2020), even for director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. “We’ve done one 29-hour reading, so we’re still working on the book,” he says of working with book writer and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage.
As previously announced the musical is a collaboration between The Michael Jackson Estate and Columbia Live Stage. Wheeldon is about to begin a dance lab for the show, which leads into “a four-week overall lab” as the duo develops the work.
But one thing he is clear on is that this is not a sweeping bio-musical of the King of Pop’s entire life. “The show is very much anchored in one particular moment in time,” Wheeldon tells Playbill. “I always bring up the fabulous movie that Spielberg made about Lincoln: You take one key moment, I suppose, in the history of someone’s life and then sort of use that as an anchor point for past storytelling and, perhaps, some kind of prophecy of what’s to come. We’ll be doing that with this story.”
Aside from the script, Wheeldon has another daunting task ahead of him: choreographing the man who popularized the moonwalk.
The Tony winner for Best Choreography for his An American in Paris likens this project to that Broadway adaptation. “In the same way fans of the American in Paris movie would have wanted and, I hope, felt that they came away with a real sense of the style of that period and of [choreographer and star] Gene Kelly and of [star] Leslie Caron, that might kind of be the route we go with Michael,” Wheeldon reveals. “I also intend to put quite a lot of Michael’s work in the show, as well.”