Myles Frost on bringing 'MJ the Musical' to the West End

Myles Frost has brought his award-winning performance as MJ to the West End. We meet the man behind the icon, and discover an artist in his own right.

Isaac Ouro-Gnao
Isaac Ouro-Gnao

Thousands of artists across the world have made it their life’s work to pay tribute to Michael Jackson. His signature moonwalk, sequined costumes, and timeless songs have become a pop culture staple, beckoning young and old to try their hand at emulating the icon. But for Myles Frost, the star of the hit MJ the Musical, portraying the King of Pop has been about embodying “the essence of Michael as opposed to an imitation performance”.

It’s quite clear the American performer has succeeded, with critics and audiences raving about his “jaw-dropping” ability to “transform into MJ before our eyes”. Frost plays an adult Jackson as he navigates personal and professional trials and tribulations during rehearsals for his ambitious 1992 Dangerous World Tour. Scenes are anchored to him and two other actors playing younger versions of MJ through The Jackson 5 era, through to his solo career and numerous accolades.

Since the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical’s transfer to the West End in March, London audiences have fallen in love with Frost’s portrayal of MJ — a mesmerising, precise, humorous and, at times, hauntingly uncanny performance.

How does Frost embody MJ’s essence, and what does he have that others do not? For starters, a bit of luck coupled with raw talent and hard work. The actor and singer’s musical theatre journey began at his high school. “I didn’t know anything about theatre,” he says. “I was an artist before I even got into the theatre world. I had a band, I was playing piano and singing, so I wanted to be the next Michael Jackson, just in my own way.”

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Frost describes himself as a “kid who kept to himself”, especially after moving to the predominantly white Thomas S. Wootton High School in Maryland. It’s here that a chance meeting with a teacher, Ms. Ingram, impacted his life. She heard and saw something in Frost as he played the piano and thought he’d be perfect for the Hairspray musical being staged at the school. “She changed my life,” he says. “I’d never heard of a musical before, I didn’t even know about Hairspray. I watched the movie with my mum that night.”

Frost breaks into a soft soothing falsetto as he recounts his favourite character Seaweed and a smile forms on his face. “I saw him [in the film] and I was like, ‘I want to be that guy!’”

This was his first taste of musical theatre, and a rewarding one too as it gave him the platform to “really express myself singing and dancing on stage”. Frost went on to perform in several school musicals (notably as Warner in Legally Blonde, and as Lord Pinkleton in Cinderella), and his growing love of the stage bloomed at a talent show in 2016, when he eased into the essence of MJ in his performance of “Billie Jean” to a crowd of cheering classmates and parents.

His mother Charmayne Strayhorn, his biggest cheerleader, filmed the performance and uploaded it to YouTube. Frost’s crisp melodies, energetic moonwalk, smooth jazz splits, and charismatic stage presence captivated the producers of MJ the Musical years later, and led to an audition where he won the hearts of author Lynn Nottage and director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.

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“That's how this whole thing started,” he says, a smile playing across his lips. While an undergraduate at Bowie State University in Maryland, the 21 year-old got the call for the audition “and they were wondering if I could do a newer rendition of “Billie Jean”. I hadn't done any Michael material since I was 16, but [...] I could at least try”. What followed was a gruelling 10 hours of auditions, as he diligently rehearsed and studied MJ’s performance in the 1985 TV documentary Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.

But this incredible opportunity was almost ruined when 20 minutes into a rehearsal for the “Billie Jean” choreography, Frost suffered an allergic reaction to dust in the room. He had to wait over three hours for his mother to arrive with an EpiPen, but the next day, after a short recovery, he put everything on the line.

“This is where faith comes in,” he continues. “I was like ‘God, if you put me through all of this, please let me get this role so it can be worth it.’ So, I walked into the audition and I introduced myself. I said, ‘Hi, my name is Myles Frost, and I’ll be auditioning for the role of Michael Jackson.’ I always strive to leave an impression so that even if they choose somebody better than me, they're still thinking ‘but Myles did that thing I can't stop thinking about!’ I think that's the biggest lesson I learned. This is step one — just go for it and see what happens.”

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Since then, Frost’s star has only continued to rise. He was the youngest person to win the 2022 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, setting Broadway alight with his talents. And the validations kept on flowing. “I met Prince Jackson, Michael’s son, during one of our previews on Broadway,” he adds. “In our first conversation, he said: ‘Thank you for not impersonating my father.’ It meant the world to me.”

Frost has managed to create a clear separation between himself and Michael during his time in the role. “One mental health tidbit that I’ve learnt is I don't walk into the theatre with my make-up on, so I don't leave the theatre with my make-up on,” he says. “Whenever I meet somebody at stagedoor or backstage, I meet everyone as Myles, not Michael.” This learning comes from his experience and the support of the creative teams and collaborators involved.

Chief among them are two incredible dance artists who have a long history of performing with MJ. “I met these two incredible Samoan brothers, Rich and Tone Talauega,” he says, “and they just carry this spirit of Michael in how you’re supposed to feel when you’re doing the moves and how Michael’s swag is supposed to be portrayed.”

For the most part, Frost is a self-taught singer, dancer, and pianist. “But when I met them, they humbled me very quickly,” he says, breaking into laughter. “It was like everything that you think you know, you have to unlearn to relearn. This deepened a level of understanding that I'm a part of something much bigger than myself. I'm very humbled to be a part of [MJ the Musical].”

The musical’s success has been the talk of the West End all spring, and the Prince Edward Theatre is reaping the rewards, seeing lines wrap around the building on to Greek Street before matinees and evening shows. “I love our London audiences, they listen very intently to everything,” he says. “The demographic is the same as America, which I think is a testament to how great Michael was, and how his music really spans generations.”

But the “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” numbers, in particular, get London audiences singing, dancing, and on their feet. “Largely because everybody's excited just to see if I can do the moonwalk,” he continues, “some of those moments are iconic, and I know people are on the edge of their seats for [them].”

What makes the experience even more enticing is Wheeldon’s approach to the choreography. He has shifted away from replicating the iconic music videos and stage dances, which are etched in the collective memory of MJ fans. “We don't do the original choreography, we do choreography that you've never seen before,” Frost says. “I think a lot of people aren’t prepared for it. It allows Michael’s diehard fans to be open to a different experience.”

Frost is assured this translates to audiences being more focused “on how well am I expressing this new choreography in the style of Michael, and am I doing that the correct way?” The proof is in the number of people returning to experience the musical all over again. “We get a pretty consistent audience,” he says. “You see guys in their 80s and women in their 80s who remember seeing Michael on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. Then on the flip side, you’ve got a nine year old dressed in full “Thriller” attire. It's really cool to witness that and I strive in my own artistry to have that same impact for years to come.” One thing is for certain: Frost’s depiction of MJ will have a long-lasting impact on the London theatre scene.

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Photo credit: Myles Frost. (All photos by Emilio Madrid)

This interview first appeared in the June issue of London Theatre Magazine.

Originally published on

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