In 2003, veteran screenwriter and director Julien Nitzberg was approached by a television network to write the script for a Michael Jackson biopic. This was long before the explosive HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, of course, but the mythology and controversy surrounding Jackson’s crazy life was already well-documented. So, Nitzberg was stumped regarding how approach the pop star’s stranger-than-fiction story.
“There were already lots of scandals, but I’d done my research and I was just like, ‘There’s something not right about having sleepovers with kids,’” Nitzberg tells Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume. “It was like the Emperor’s New Clothes. There was [the common defense], ‘Oh, he’s a child, and he doesn’t know better.’ I was just like, ‘Come on! No one really likes kids that much that’s not their kid. Who wants to spend more than two hours with a kid that’s not their own — especially a sleepover?’
“So I said, ‘Listen, if we’re going to do this, let’s do something interesting.’ Because when you write a movie, how do you explain this guy who’s incredibly rich, incredibly talented, suddenly sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber, who adopts a monkey, wants the Elephant Man’s bones? As a writer, I can’t make logical sense of it. We just have to go fully insane. And also, we have to address the child abuse allegations. How do we do it that’s interesting and not corny?’”
That TV project unsurprisingly never came to fruition. But 17 years later, in early 2020, Nitzberg figured it out, and his bonkers “unauthorized musical fable” about Jackson, For the Love of a Glove — which, suffice to say, has little in common with the recently announced MJ biopic directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Michael’s nephew, Jaafar Jackson — finally hit the stage. The musical had a successful run at Los Angeles’s Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Theater; NPR’s Weekend Edition gave it a glowing review; and it received three Ovation Award nominations from the Los Angeles Stage Alliance. The production was even extended into mid-April of that year — before COVID came along and closed it down in March 2020, placing any future plans for the production on indefinite hold.
But now For the Love of a Glove is back, beginning Feb. 25, with a revised script, new songs, and even more puppets (there were 25 during the show’s first run). But nine of the 10 original cast members have returned, and the show’s premise remains intact: “Michael is a great guy, but he has an evil glove named Thrill-Ah — an evil alien that looks like a glove. And [the alien] actually landed in Lake Michigan when Michael was a kid and gave Michael his talent, but he also feeds on his blood. And [Thrill-Ah] is the one who wants the sleepovers. He’s the one who forces him to adopt Bubbles. And Michael is just appalled by it all.”
Sure, it sounds pretty bizarre. And it is. After all, much of the R-rated, 18-and-over show, particularly the first act that focuses on the Jackson 5’s origin story and alien abduction, is done with life-sized marionettes. (Later on, Corey Feldman, Emmanuel Lewis, Donny Osmond, and Bubbles puppets also make appearances. Bubbles the Chimp gets his own musical number, of course.)
But perhaps the musical’s storyline is more plausible than it seems. For the Love of a Glove’s producer, Tony Jones, was actually the Jackson 5’s manager during the group’s early Motown years, and Nitzberg reveals: “Tony, who knew Michael and has read a million scripts about Michael and says they’re always terrible, he’s said, ‘This is the [script] that makes the most sense. There’s no way to explain Michael’s life — unless an evil alien that looks like a glove is controlling him.’”
For all of its extremely politically incorrect, South Park-style humor, much of For the Love of a Glove’s deals with serious issues, like racism, religious hypocrisy, and cultural appropriation. Former Saturday Night Live cast member Jerry Minor, the voice and puppeteer who originally played the five-fingered villain Thrill-Ah in 2020, was — like Jackson — raised in the Jehovah’s Witness church, and he too gave the show his seal of approval.
“I started doing my research, because I like to delve into like the darker and weirder parts, and I started finding out about the Jehovah’s Witnesses how along the top three sins in being a Jehovah’s Witness is masturbating. … They teach is that if you’re a dude, if you start masturbating, it can turn you gay, because you get used to a man’s hand on you and you start wanting other men’s hands,” says Nitzberg. “And Jerry Minor… he was just like, ‘Julien, it’s true [that this is taught].
“So, the third song is a song that [Jackson family matriarch] Katherine Jackson sings to the kids called ‘Don’t Masturbate.’ And, if you know this shit, you’re like, ‘Wait, how did this guy who is still a Jehovah’s Witness go on the American Music Awards and start grabbing his crotch, looking like he’s masturbating?’ It makes no sense — unless an evil alien glove is forcing him to grab his crotch, and he’s against it. Because it’s a glove doing it, not him.” (Later in Act 2, the joyous, Peter Pan-inspired finale “Let’s Masturbate!” provides a counter-argument to Katherine’s preachy song.)
There are many other even more eyebrow-raising and jaw-dropping musical numbers, which were composed by a team of seasoned popsmiths — Drew Erickson, Nicole Morierm and Max Townsley — who’ve worked with everyone from Tom Jones and Roger Waters to Britney Spears and Selena Gomez. (“I needed people who could get that R&B feel, the Michael feel, catchy songs — not those suckass musical theater songs,” says Nitzberg.) Some of the shockers include “What Is it About Indiana?” (a history lesson about the Ku Klux Klan’s infiltration of the Jacksons’ home state, with Broadway-style dancers in white hoods); “Let a Friend Help You Beat It” (depicting a forbidden, line-crossing encounter between Thrill-Ah and a confused, pubescent Jackson); and the hilarious “Do You Know What Happened in 1959?” (in which Motown founder Berry Gordy profanely denounces white artists’ thieving of Black music, calling out the Osmonds, Pat Boone, and even the Beatles and Stones).
The Jackson 5’s showbiz rivals the Osmonds, whom Nitzberg laughingly calls “the worst people on Earth” and a “pure satanic force,” in particular get roasted: In perhaps the most squirmingly uncomfortable moment of the entire show, a young, evil Donny Osmond croon “What a Delight When You Turn White,” in an attempt to convince Jackson that he should convert to Mormonism.
So, there’s something in For the Love of Glove to offend just about everyone. But Nitzberg says with a shrug, “We don’t give a f***. We’re canceling ‘cancel culture.’” He admits that “we’ve gotten some psycho MJ fans like writing to actors in the show, writing horrendously ugly things to them. But they haven’t seen the show. They don’t know how we deal with Michael, which is the glove takes on all the shadowy evil parts of Michael’s personality. … Conversely, if MJ supporters would be against this play because they see it as putting MJ in a bad light, there are other people who’d be like, ‘Oh, you’re making him seem like a good man, an innocent man, when he’s actually done all these horrible things that we saw in Leaving Neverland and heard about for many years.’ There’s like 10% of super-pissed-off people who just judge stuff without seeing it.”
Nitzberg stresses that any protesters or curious doubters should wait “until you see the show and see how complicated it is, and how it deals with a lot of issues in a funny way. The paradigm that I would say is, if you’ve got to deal with some heavy political issues, look at Mel Brooks, and look at Richard Pryor. They got together and wrote Blazing Saddles, and there’s no better attack on racism than that. But you’re laughing your ass off, and you’re not being lectured.”
For The Love of a Glove: An Unauthorized Musical Fable runs Feb. 25 through April 1 at the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Theater in L.A.; tickets are available here. The above interview is taken from Julien Nitzberg’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Audio of that conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.
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