‘For the Love of a Glove’: Michael Jackson play is back on


In “For the Love of a Glove,” glove-shaped aliens from the planet Bazalaam are responsible for giving the Jackson 5 their musical talent. Photo by Patrick Lee.

The musical theater production “For the Love of a Glove,” a (very unauthorized) biography of Michael Jackson, first opened at the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan theater back in February of 2020. Several weeks into the debut run, performances were selling out, and the show started to get attention from the national news media. “People were literally flying across the country to see our show,” says Julien Nitzberg, the writer and director of the show. 

But then news started to trickle out about a novel virus spreading around the country. “We started hearing about this thing called the coronavirus,” remembers Nitzberg. “And everyone says to me, ‘We're only closing for three months.’ And I'm the pessimist of the group, I'm like, ‘I think it's going to be six months.’ And they're like, ‘You're crazy Julien, this is never going to last six months.’”

Now that show is back for a 12-performance run through April 1. But the tumultuous years in between have left their mark on all aspects of the production, from its finances to the emotional tenor of the acting.

The production features two types of puppets, including these Japanese-style puppets called Bunraku, designed by Robin Walsh. Photo by Patrick Lee.

The premise of the show is that Michael Jackson and his brothers discover several glove-shaped aliens one day when their spaceship crash lands in Gary, Ind., the real-life childhood hometown of the Jacksons. These extraterrestrials have special powers: When the gloves feed on the blood of a virgin, that person suddenly has a magnificent singing voice. And just like that, the Jackson 5 are born.

Nitzberg first got the idea for this story 20 years ago when he was approached by studio executives who wanted him to write a movie about Michael Jackson. Nitzberg asked the executives how he should handle the sexual abuse allegations against Jackson and was told he couldn’t mention them.  

“I came back and I said, ‘What if Michael Jackson's glove was an alien from outer space and he's the one who is responsible for all the bad things Michael Jackson did?’”

That suggestion did not go over well. But in 2020, Nitzberg finally realized that vision on stage. The last performance before lockdown happened on March 8th, 2020. It was unclear if the show would ever reopen. 

“We hadn't budgeted for a three-year closing and re-casting and re-rehearsing, because you have to pay people to rehearse,” Nitzberg says. Plus “having to pay for masks and tests and everything else.”

There was also another complicating factor in the reopening of the show. In early 2020 a new California law called AB5 went into effect. Before AB5, many of the actors and crew of these small theater productions earned less than minimum wage. After, every member of the cast and crew had to be paid at least $16 an hour.

It changed the cost calculus for the show, says Betsy Zajko, a producer on “For the Love of a Glove” who has been working as an actor and theater producer in LA for decades. It meant raising more money. And it led to the end of relatively cheap tickets for many small theater productions, including this one, which raised prices from $50 to $60. 

“Audiences have to learn that if these things are going to change, and it's right to pay people, that the ticket prices are going to go up. And as producers, budgeting is different. So we have less hours available to rehearse. Money that was allocated towards some areas like advertising are now being reallocated towards the things on stage,” she explains.   

Nicole Monet, executive director of the Courage Ensemble, LA’s only pay-what-you-want theater company, described the effect of AB5 on her company as “utterly horrific and jarring and awful.” 

She isn’t opposed to paying actors more. But the shows she puts on were not profitable even when actors made less than minimum wage. Besides which, she says, profits were never the goal. They put on these shows for the experience. Say, for instance, “this 99-seat theater is doing ‘Three Sisters’ by Chekhov and that's your dream role,” she says. “You're in-between jobs and you have an opportunity to do this passion project. Why not work with a small theater company who can't pay you as much, because it's something you want to do and maybe have the time to do?”

The actors playing the Jacksons, left to right, are Eric B. Anthony as Michael, Suzanne Nicols as Katherine, and Trécey Dory as Jermaine. Photo by Patrick Lee.

The audiences that come to this show will be seeing a different version than what debuted before the pandemic for more than just financial reasons. 

During the pandemic, Julien rethought the whole show. “I was able to rewrite it,” he says, “and what's really weird and amazing is all our actors came back and they've all grown as performers in this way that I can't quite comprehend. They're bringing so many more levels to every performance. Did the darkness of coronavirus change them? Did they just become better actors? Was the emotional rollercoaster of corona like something that brought them new depth?” 

“I spent a lot of 2020 just hurting, grieving this show, wondering if theater would be dead,” says Trécey Dory. He plays Jermaine Jackson in the show and is an understudy for Michael Jackson. Like a lot of us, he struggled during the pandemic. “There's been loss for me. In 2020, my grandfather died, friends of mine died a little before that. An old mentor died, and all of that was really hard.”

Dory says those losses made him want to spend more time with people he cares about, “so to see everyone here, it's a relief. I'm grateful for their presence to be among these talented individuals, making art again.” 

Eric B. Anthony, who plays Michael Jackson, says he’s having a similar experience. He says he felt like he was returning to this performance as a different person than he was before the pandemic, “having a new mind when it comes to racial inequality and what it means to be a Black person in this country.”

In May of 2020, the killing of George Floyd and countless other African Americans sparked a wave of protests around the world and brought attention to racial injustice in America. And coming back to the show after all that changed the way Anthony felt about parts of the musical. 

One song, called “What a Delight,” is about the relationship between Michael Jackson, who was raised Jehovah’s Witness in real life, and Donny Osmond, who was raised Mormon.

In the song, Donny tells Michael that he will become white after death if he converts to Mormonism. It is a reference to the Mormon interpretation of the story of Cain and Abel that says that Black people are cursed, or as mormon prophet Brigham Young put it, “Some classes of the human family are Black, uncouth and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of intelligence that are bestowed upon mankind.”

“So the song is about what a delight it will be when Michael turns white, because all of a sudden there'll be this access, there will be police being nice to me because I'm white, and so then I won't have to worry about them shooting me,” says Anthony.  “How sad that that is true, that you can be a white person and shoot up a whole church, and then the police will walk you to get a hamburger. But you could be a Black person asking for help and end up dead.” 

This was one of the moments in the show that Anthony felt differently about after the pandemic, “just really grappling with some things in the script that I was like, ‘How do I really feel about this? How do I want people to feel about this?’ Let's not just laugh about these things that I think I was okay with people laughing about before.”

Eric also suffered his own personal tragedies during the pandemic, including two separate bike accidents in 2021.

“It was the first day of Black History Month. I was feeling super Black and super proud, and I was riding down Vermont and Beverly and hit a ditch and flew off my bike, hit the ground as hard as I possibly could, and broke my collarbone,” he says.

In a second bike accident, he tore the AC joint in his other shoulder, and had to have two surgeries to repair the damage. 

With rehab and physical therapy, he is now healthy enough to return to the stage and says he feels like a new person. “I mean, literally, physically new, in the sense of having these surgeries and having reconstructed body parts,” he says.

Now Anthony says he’s really excited to perform, especially in front of his family. “My sister always used to call me ‘Michael’ when we were younger. So I think it'll be a gift and just a joy to share this crazy version of Michael Jackson with them. And also, I'm excited to see what happens this time.”