A St. Petersburg native has just landed what might be next year’s biggest role on Broadway.
Ephraim Sykes, who honed his chops at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, will star as Michael Jackson in the upcoming bio-musical MJ, slated to open July 6 at the Neil Simon Theatre.
The show will be scripted by two-time Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage (Ruined, Sweat), with Tony-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon directing.
“I’ve been dying to share this news for months now,” Sykes posted on Instagram. “My ACTUAL wildest dream is coming true. ... I’ll do my best to honor the man who made me wanna sing and dance in the first place. Love you MJ, love y’all!”
According to the New York Times, the show is supposedly set in 1992, during rehearsals for Jackson’s Dangerous Tour, and will feature music from his solo and Jackson 5 careers. It’s been in the works for years, although not without controversy. It was supposed to begin pre-Broadway performances in Chicago this fall, though that run was canceled with little explanation other than the show needed more time.
Jackson, who died in 2009, has received largely negative headlines in 2019, following the Sundance debut of the documentary Leaving Neverland, in which two men — including choreographer Wade Robson — revived in harrowing detail fresh allegations that Jackson sexually abused them as children. That has led some organizations and artists to rethink their affiliation with, and celebration of, the singer.
The New York Post reported this summer that the MTV Video Music Awards discussed removing his name from its career achievement trophy, the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. Producers of The Simpsons announced that a classic 1991 episode featuring Jackson’s voice would be taken out of rerun circulation. “Weird Al” Yankovic ditched his hit Michael Jackson parodies, Eat It and Fat, from his latest tour because “we didn’t want anybody to feel uncomfortable,” he told Billboard.
Controversy aside, Sykes is a natural choice to fill the shoes and sequined glove of the King of Pop. He’s danced in projects ranging from Hamilton and Newsies on Broadway to film and TV projects like Hairspray Live! In April, Sykes received his first Tony Award nomination for his role in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations. A classically trained dancer, he was named Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway Show at this year’s Chita Rivera Awards, honoring choreography in musical theater.
And on Wednesday, Sykes earned his first Grammy nomination, as the Ain’t Too Proud cast was nominated for Best Musical Theater recording. He and his castmates will go up against the cast recordings from Hadestown, Oklahoma!, Moulin Rouge! and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.