A major re-evaluation of Michael Jackson’s place in popular culture has occurred since the March airing of the Leaving Neverland documentary and its allegations of abuse levelled against Jackson, with a number of platforms limiting or ceasing exposure of the artist. Though many may be turning away from Jackson in light of the allegations from Wade Robson and James Safechuck, a major Broadway musical centering on Jackson’s life appears to be moving forward.
Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough, a musical chronicling Jackson’s life during 1991’s Dangerous era, is getting ready to enter a workshop period this fall with hopes for a summer 2020 premiere. This period of reworking and rewriting the musical comes after a pre-Broadway run in Chicago was cancelled right before airing of Leaving Neverland.
Though the question of how we talk about and engage with Jackson as a cultural icon – especially on a stage as big as that of a Broadway musical – remain largely unanswered in light of these allegations, those associated with the musical believe the show must go on. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Don’t Stop’s writer, Lynn Nottage stated that she would be approaching the musical with a critical eye. “The artwork that we’re making [is] a way to more deeply understand Michael Jackson and process feelings, and ultimately that’s what theater can do.”
Nottage is no stranger to the theatre world, having won two Pulitzer prizes for her productions Ruined and Sweat, though her opinions on the allegations appear to be as confusing as the idea of making a Michael Jackson musical in 2019. In the wake of Leaving Neverland, Nottage affirmed her belief in the testimonies of Robson and Safechuck, though appeared to recently rescind her statement to the New York Times, asking “Were they ultimately telling the truth? I cannot 100 percent say so, because I’m not judge and jury, and it’s not my place to do that.”
In the interview, Nottage and director Christopher Wheeldon acknowledged that though they’re “sensitive to what’s going on and we’ll see whether it works into the show or not,” they ultimately feel that “our job is not to answer those questions” and that “the primary focus of our show has always been focusing on Michael’s creative process.”
With the production entering its workshop phase this upcoming fall, it remains to be seen how exactly Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough will tackle the issues raised by Leaving Neverland, if at all. Whatever route they end up taking notwithstanding, Nottage and Wheeldon expressed hope that prospective theatregoers “will leave with a better understanding of who [Jackson] was as a human being.”