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‘MJ’ musical to star ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ alum in run at Nederlander Theater

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“Hamilton” altered Roman Banks’ direction in life when he was in high school.

Until his friends at theater camp convinced him to watch blurry, unauthorized clips from the musical, Banks wanted to act for TV and film.

“It changed my life to see people who look like me on stage,” Banks said. “I didn’t think Broadway was a place for people like that and music like that and art like that.”

From then on, Banks knew he wanted to act on Broadway. At 19, he became the first person of color to play Evan in “Dear Evan Hansen.” Now, at 24, he is set to play Michael Jackson in “MJ,” the musical starting its North American tour in Chicago this August.

Banks has also played a recurring character on the Disney+ series “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.”

On Tuesday, Broadway in Chicago announced Banks would be starring as the King of Pop in the highly anticipated first national tour of the jukebox musical. The full cast for the Chicago show will be announced soon.

Roman Banks stars as Michael Jackson in “MJ” the musical. Matthew Murphy Photo

Roman Banks will star as Michael Jackson in “MJ: The Musical.”

“Roman is a stunning performer, and we are lucky to have him leading the company on our first National Tour,” said director Christopher Wheeldon in a statement.

“MJ,” which premiered on Broadway in December 2021, won four Tonys. Opening night at the Nederlander Theater, located at 24 W. Randolph St., is Aug. 1. The show will run through Sept. 2. Tickets are now on sale at ticketmaster.com.

Set in 1992 just two days before Jackson set out on his Dangerous world tour, the musical has a book by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage (“Ruined,” “Sweat”). More than three dozen of Jackson’s hits are featured in the show.

Banks said he is overjoyed to be playing his “musical hero” on stage. “I grew up on this music,” he added.

He said he is also excited to kick off the tour in Chicago. He was on his first trip to the city Tuesday.

“I can’t believe we get to start this moment, this show in such a town full of people who are so passionate about arts and theater,” Banks said.

When Banks found out he had been cast as Jackson, he said he was “relieved.” When he told his mom, he said they had a dance party on FaceTime to Jackson’s music.

The news came around Halloween last year, he said. Though Banks had to keep his upcoming role largely under wraps, he said he’s been preparing ever since.

Banks added that he connected with Jackson’s perfectionism, which drove his precise and distinctive style of movement. Banks said nailing Jackson’s unique style and persona through dance has been one of the most challenging parts of preparing for the show.

But the “grueling” rehearsals are worth it for Banks. He said he hopes audiences will “bring an attitude of welcoming and joy” when they see the show.

“If that can happen every night,” he said, “then we’re in for one hell of a year.”



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