Michael Jackson's Glove Is A Singing Alien In This LA Musical Tackling Sex Abuse Allegations
March 5 update: This show has been extended — tickets are currently available through April 19.
Writer/director Julien Nitzberg thinks most biopics are bad and cheesy. His attempts not to make one of those about Michael Jackson led him to create a satirical musical where Jackson is controlled by his white glove, which is also an alien. The result: For The Love Of A Glove. (Listen to one of the songs here.)
The show came out of a request by a cable network for Nitzberg, who's written biopics for HBO and other networks, to write one about Michael Jackson.
"I said, 'Well, how are you going to deal with all the more serious issues — like the child molestation?' And they had no answer," Nitzberg said.
The network didn't want to delve into Jackson's alleged sexual abuse of children, telling Nitzberg that it was due to Jackson being found not guilty when allegations against him went to court.
Nitzberg's idea for dealing with it: alien glove. That's because you need a sympathetic character that makes logical sense to write a good drama, Nitzberg said, and he didn't think Jackson fit the bill.
"You can't explain in a normal, dramatic, logical storyline why this guy, who's a millionaire, suddenly is adopting a monkey and walking around with a monkey wearing matching outfits. You can't explain sleepovers with kids. You can't explain why he tried to buy the Elephant Man's bones," Nitzberg said.
So his solution was to do a project embracing the weirdness and turning up the absurdity. The cable network execs laughed at the idea of a sensible version of Jackson listening to his glove, instead asking for a standard biopic about the singer.
"I was like, 'I don't think morally I can do this,'" Nitzberg said.
So Nitzberg's idea didn't become a cable biopic, but now it is coming to life as a satirical musical.
The show uses comedy while also looking at why Jackson turned out the way he did.
"We're showing what made him a troubled person, by using this metaphorical alien," Nitzberg said. "We basically move the bad part about Michael Jackson's life, the responsibility, onto the glove, from him."
But Nitzberg said the show doesn't absolve Jackson of responsibility for his actions.
"It's saying these things are wrong, but creating a new character paradigm where our Michael can comment on real-life Michael."
It tackles his background raised as a Jehovah's Witness, being sexually repressed, and facing racism.
"I want to leave the audience with something deeper and more interesting than 'then, Michael bought Bubbles,'" Nitzberg said.
Controversy isn't something Nitzberg's afraid of — his last musical was a buddy comedy about 9/11, which won an L.A. Weekly award for Best Musical of the Year.
Beyond the aliens, the show also uses singing group the Osmonds as villains. It looks at issues around cultural appropriation, with the all-white singers changing their act in the wake of the success of the Jackson Five. The show also contrasts the forces of the Jackson Five's background as Jehovah's Witnesses with the Osmonds being Mormons.
The show drew attention early on over headlines saying that Johnny Depp was producing it — that's not true, Nitzberg said, but the producers do include Sam Sarkar, CEO of Depp's production company Infinitum Nihil.
"Suddenly, everyone had this idea that Johnny Depp was at every show," Nitzberg said.
Choreographers Cris Judd (aka Jennifer Lopez's ex-husband) and Bryan Anthony worked on For The Love Of A Glove; both men worked with Jackson. Judd danced with Jackson for years, including on the Dangerous and HIStory tours, while Anthony was in Jackson's 1984 Pepsi commercial — the one where Jackson's hair caught on fire.
Judd is best friends with dancer/choreographer Wade Robson, who made sexual abuse allegations against Jackson in the 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland. So Judd asked Robson about whether to do the show, Nitzberg said, and Robson told him to go ahead.
"[Cris] understood the show was for people who love Michael Jackson, but also a critique of what he actually is accused of doing," Nitzberg said.
Judd used his deep knowledge of Jackson's dance moves to turn them into comedic commentary through choreography.
Oh, did we forget to talk about the giant puppets used throughout the show? While adult Jackson is a live actor, many of the characters are portrayed using puppets. That's particularly true in the first act, focusing on the Jackson Five.
They brought in Robin Walsh, who's also worked on puppets for Men In Black and Team America. One of the reasons for the show to use puppets: the adult nature of the material.
"[Nitzberg] felt like there's no other way to do it, because you can't get kids to do what needs to happen in the show," Walsh said.
While the show has what Walsh described as a crazy, silly story, she said it's a ruse to talk about deeper issues.
"The nice thing about puppetry is, since its inception, it's a really good tool to say things in a way that humans can't."
The puppets themselves are inspired by the Japanese bunraku style of puppets, standing around four feet tall. To make sure that the cast could all handle it, some puppetry was included in the audition process — then they put the performers in puppet camp for a week and a half, Walsh said. That included puppet theory, puppet movement exercises, hand mime, and more.
The cast also serving as puppeteers meant the show took twice as long to rehearse as a normal show, according to Nitzberg.
How do you make puppets dance? The puppets are actually attached to the actors, allowing them to dance and move like the Jackson Five, Walsh said. The choreographers looked at the puppets and came up with dance moves that the performers could do intuitively.
The show also utilizes hand puppets to represent the glove (and his glove alien compatriots), and while this show may not exactly be Hamlet, it also makes use of a puppet show within the show.
As you may have guessed, this show is highly unauthorized and far from a jukebox musical. But they still wanted to evoke the feeling of Jackson's music throughout, so Nitzberg worked with composers to give it a pop sensibility.
He had trouble finding the right composers who could give him something that didn't sound like musical theater, but found a team that could produce what he wanted. That team includes Nicole Morier, who's written songs for Britney Spears, Selena Gomez, and Tom Jones.
Listen to the introduction to Jackson's glove in the song "The World's Greatest Superstar," sung by actor/comedian Jerry Minor — he plays the glove:
Warning: Contains adult language
For The Love Of A Glove opens Saturday night, Jan. 25 at the Carl Sagan-Ann Druyan Theater at the Center for Inquiry in Echo Park. The show runs through March 8, with tickets starting at $50.
And if you want that jukebox musical version of the show, the officially endorsed MJ opens on Broadway in July.