LEILA FADEL, HOST:
To get your head around the legacy of Michael Jackson seems almost impossible. The king of pop defined what it means to be larger than life, the color barriers he broke, the crimes he allegedly committed, the abuse he faced. A new musical, though, attempts to get at all of that by adding one twist - aliens. NPR's Andrew Limbong has more.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: About 15 years ago, writer and director Julien Nitzberg was asked by a cable network to write a movie about Michael Jackson, your sort of run-of-the-mill TV biopic.
JULIEN NITZBERG: I didn't know how you could make a sympathetic character out of Michael with all the bizarre things he does. Including that was sleepovers with kids. And I said to the network, how are we going to address this? And they really didn't know how to address it.
LIMBONG: So he tried to figure out a less-straight-ahead way of telling the story.
NITZBERG: And I came back with this concept, which was all the most bizarre parts of Michael's life are caused because an alien came to Earth and basically traded, giving him talent in exchange for feeding on his blood. The network wasn't interested, but...
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "FOR THE LOVE OF A GLOVE")
JERRY MINOR: (As Thrihil-Lha, singing) The truth must be told.
LIMBONG: The idea has now come to life on stage in a small theater in Los Angeles as an unauthorized musical called "For The Love Of A Glove."
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "FOR THE LOVE OF A GLOVE")
MINOR: (As Thrihil-Lha, singing) Some think I'm just a glove. But they don't know how wrong they are. I'm the bad [expletive] who made Michael Jackson the world's greatest superstar.
LIMBONG: The alien is a single, silver, sparkly glove named Thrihil-Lha who gives Michael's musical abilities a boost in exchange for blood, specifically virgin blood.
DENISE THOMAS: And I thought it was extremely perplexing seeing the glove with the eyeballs and the mouth (laughter).
LIMBONG: Denise Thomas saw the play and wrote about it for the Compton Herald. She says that for her, the play helped illuminate the struggles young Michael Jackson went through.
THOMAS: I'm living in that world at that time, and I didn't even realize what was going on.
LIMBONG: While the musical is surreal and raunchy and absurd, it walks through the stuff of historical fact, the white competition blatantly ripping Michael off, the abusive family dynamics, the powers that be controlling him.
THOMAS: The struggle that he had with Berry Gordy. Julien does a great job of bringing those things to the forefront. That is where Michael, to me, became a hero.
LIMBONG: Act One of the play focuses on young Michael just getting started with The Jackson 5. And the kids in the musical are all played by puppets attached to the bodies of their adult actors.
NITZBERG: Puppets have always served as this function for you to be able to make fun of power, to have a different perspective of things, to immediately release you from reality and also allowed us to comment on the way The Jackson 5 were treated as artists.
LIMBONG: Here's the real Michael Jackson in an interview with Oprah in 1993, talking about how sad he felt growing up.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MICHAEL JACKSON: I'd record for hours and hours till it was time to go to sleep. So it'd be nighttime. And I remember going to the recording studio. There was a park across the street, and I'd see all the children playing. And they'd be rooting and making noise, and I would cry. It would make me sad that I would have to go and work instead.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "FOR THE LOVE OF A GLOVE")
ERIC B ANTHONY: (As Michael Jackson, singing) I won't have a true love who will snuggle me all through the night.
LIMBONG: The Michael Jackson of "For The Love Of A Glove" is lonely and isolated. He's played by Eric B. Anthony, who says he got some heated response when he first accepted the role.
ANTHONY: Like, how dare you drag his legacy and memory through the mud? You're a black man, and you're, like, disrespecting a black icon. And I'm like, first of all, you haven't read the script, and we haven't even done the show. So, like, how do you know what I'm doing with this show? But secondly, I'm really excited because none of that is happening in this show.
LIMBONG: This alternate universe that Nitzberg has laid out isn't interested in tearing Michael Jackson apart or excusing him.
NITZBERG: He's the king of pop. And, you know, theater traditionally deals with flawed kings, flawed gods, etc.
LIMBONG: The second act of the play focuses on Michael as an adult just after he recorded the hit album "Thriller," and it's where Denise Thomas says the musical could have done more to interrogate Michael Jackson's legacy, maybe by way of asking us to think more about his alleged victims. She says the musical left her questioning.
THOMAS: How should we really feel about Michael now that we know how the story ends?
LIMBONG: But "For The Love Of A Glove" isn't a play about answers. It's about questioning legacies. And the legacies of kings are never really settled. "For The Love Of A Glove" is on stage in LA until March 22. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THRILLER")
JACKSON: (Singing) It's close to midnight. Something evil's lurking in the dark. Under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart. You try to scream...
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