Julien Nitzberg Weaves Absurdity, Surrealism & Comic Audacity Into The King Of Pop’s History REVIEW: For the Love of A Glove- An Unauthorized Version of Michael Jackson’s Life
LOS ANGELES, CA- Michael Jackson was a master at dichotomy. A troubled and talented man-child, sexy yet shy, man of a thousand eccentricities, legendary but secretive, tragic and mythic… Just how does one tell his story? And even when one does, how does one discern the truth? How is it even possible to get in all the details of what formed such a pressure cooker of a life, stemming from an oppressive religious childhood, full of family drama, racism and societal expectations and then blossoming into a misunderstood worldwide superstar without writing a 600 page biography? Los Angeles writer/director Julien Nitzberg, creator of For the Love of a Glove, a very unauthorized musical about the King of Pop, believed this was indeed possible. Nitzberg, the Bronx-bred son of a Holocaust survivor, grew up examining both the dark and the light side of things and is no stranger to satire. So to dive into the hefty task of writing about Jackson, he chose the path of absurdity, surrealism, comic audacity and of course musical theatre.
Opening February 25 and running weekends through April 8th at the Carl Sagan- Ann Druyan Theatre at the Center For Inquiry in Los Angeles, For the Love of a Glove is a fictionalized recreation of the Michael Jackson legend. Imagine taking the true and verifiable timeline of Jackson’s life, from his childhood through the eventual child molestation charges, and spinning it into an alternate universe, where everything makes sense and there is a good reason for it all. This might involve hungry space aliens with their minds set on the domination of earth, a talking glove that acts as Jackson’s right-hand man, explanations for Jackson’s famous crotch grab and Jackson’s slowly lightening skin color and change of features. This production is meant to shock and stir and question and spoof and potentially offend. Doing so in a musical format gives permission to let it all go, to hysterically examine off-limit subjects like sexuality, religious hypocrisy, child abuse, and racism. A rollicking musical number, in guise of a religious anthem, warns the crowd that masturbation is the surest way to hell, instructing, “Don’t be gay, just be straight, don’t masturbate,” while another civic-minded song gives the hidden history of Gary, Indiana, the Jackson family’s hometown, “We had the largest Ku Klux Klan in US history.” Nitzberg was responsible for all lyric writing, while music composition was done by Drew Erickson, Nicole Morier and Max Townsley.
Life sized puppets, created by puppet designer Robin Walsh (Jim Henson/Disney/Ray Harryhaussen) portray the Jackson 5 as children, furthering the dreamlike feeling of fable and interestingly bringing me back to my own memories of Saturday Morning Cartoons. The child-like identity that was a well-known part of Jackson’s persona is continually echoed in production choices such as this, making this fictional timeline part Sesame Street, part rock and roll bio, part vintage Sci-Fi midnight movie and most assuredly camp. Nothing is as it seems, or is it?
Jackson is skillfully played as an adult by actor Eric B. Anthony (Broadway cast of The Lion King/Hairspray/Mary Poppins). He brings the triple threat- singing, acting, dancing, but also plays Jackson with a vulnerability and innocence much needed in this role. The whole cast works seamlessly together as an ensemble, making the dancing and singing numbers buoyant and jubilant, even when the subject matter is less than joyful.
All in all I must say I thoroughly enjoyed For the Love of a Glove and found it quite original, idiosyncratic, intelligent and humorous. I found myself laughing loudly, singing along and rooting for this chimeric version of Jackson. Nitzberg’s goal is to eventually take this production to Broadway, Off-Broadway or London’s West End or a nationwide-tour, where it will surely find an ever broader fan base, and he deserves to succeed.