When Julien Nitzberg was hired to write a TV movie about the life of late pop star Michael Jackson, he found it impossible to detail his stained legacy and make something that would be acceptable to a network. So, he didn’t — and took the story to the stage instead.
“When I said ‘no’ to the Michael Jackson biopic, I’m sure they offered the job to another writer,” said Nitzberg, whose credits include the documentary “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.” “I have no idea what happened to the project. In Hollywood, they develop so many things that never get made. My guess is that they never cracked how to tell the story. Because no one can really know what went on in Michael’s head or house, it’s an impossible story to tell and not have it be fully, non-logically absurd.”
Rather than dodge the absurdity, he leaned into it. “For the Love of a Glove: An Unauthorized Musical Fable,” is produced by Johnny Depp and his company, Infinitum Nihil, with Leigh Crawford, Sam Sarkar, and Anthony “Tony” Jones, who was the road manager for the Jackson 5. It opens January 25 at the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan theatre in Los Angeles.
Nitzberg said trying to tell the story of Michael Jackson through the perspective of his famous sequin glove required out-of-the-box thinking. “My influences were Nikolai Gogol, the Theater of the Absurd, Monty Python,” he said. “Conventional storytelling could not work for this story. Knowing that the second half of his life was so strange the only way to tell it was by picking an absurd, strange way to tell it.”
Daniel Remi Bergeron
Here’s the synopsis: “Was Michael Jackson framed for horrible crimes by four aliens who were trying to take over Earth by using him as their patsy? Did God turn Michael white to get revenge on Donny Osmond and the Mormons for teaching that black people were cursed? Are Jehovah’s Witnesses telling the truth when they teach that masturbating can make you gay? Only one person knows the answers and… everyone thinks he’s just a glove. It might be the most f’ed up musical you’ll ever see. And it’s got puppets. Come meet the hand that grabbed Michael’s gland in Neverland.”
Nitzberg said that in mounting “For the Love of a Glove,” he “interviewed a lot of people who knew Michael and no one could really explain why he behaved the way he did.” However, he added that the musical’s “uniquely strange approach” is also what attracted Jones to his project. “He told us that he’d read many Michael Jackson scripts and they never explain the man satisfactorily.”
Michael Jackson returned to headlines earlier this year with the release of HBO’s documentary “Leaving Neverland,” which explores sex abuse allegations from two of the child actors that Jackson kept in his fray. But Nitzberg said the movie wasn’t a factor for the stage musical.
“Since the origin of this project was rooted in the fact that I wanted to find a way to address the child abuse allegations in a weird metaphorical way, the HBO documentary did not affect the story,” Nitzberg said. “This was all in the musical already. It was a bit of a relief when the HBO documentary came out because we knew that the sanctioned other Michael Jackson projects were probably going to ignore that aspect of his life while we had it as a major element.”
The musical does not cover the years Michael Jackson spent in Neverland, his fantasy ranch in Santa Barbara County. “When the gloves suggest sleepovers with young children, our Michael thinks the idea is horrible. In many ways, the gloves operate as Michael’s Jungian shadow self, allowing Michael to process his life,” Nitzberg said.
Advance tickets for “For the Love of a Glove: An Unauthorized Musical Fable” can be purchased here.