It was a video of him performing “Billie Jean” that landed Myles Frost the role of Broadway’s King of Pop. For that reason, he practices MJ The Musical’s take on the hit song every show during intermission, despite having performed the number hundreds of times in the show itself. “I want to make sure it's right, I want to make sure it's perfect and clean. And that I give it the respect it deserves for getting me so far,” Frost says. There’s a conviction in his voice that makes it easy to imagine the actor’s focus when he runs through the number backstage.
It’s also an endearing habit to hear about as the 23-year-old won a 2022 Tony Award for his performance as Michael Jackson (making him the youngest performer ever to win a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical). For Frost's part, he still can’t quite believe it as MJ approaches its one year anniversary on Broadway February 1. “It’s so surreal,” the actor says. “It’s only been a year. That's the crazy part. It's made me respect a year so much more, and not take for granted how your life can change.” And what a role for the actor to kick off his career with.
Taking on the role of Michael Jackson presented Frost with several challenges, including facing the sexual abuse allegations against the late music icon, and the critiques the musical faced for not addressing the issue. Dealing with those topics required Frost to hone what he believes his responsibilities are as an actor. “It was obviously something that I couldn't ignore. As an artist, you have to find your center. What is the reason that you're doing this? If you don't have strong reasons for doing this, it'd be easy to crumble under the pressure,” Frost shares.
He explains that playing Michael Jackson comes with both the good and the bad: “As an artist, it’s my job to be unbiased going into whatever project I go into, and accept everything about that person.”
While the actor entered the role as neutral as possible, he also entered it with excitement. Some of his earliest memories are of listening and dancing to Jackson’s music as a child with his mom.
Frost recalls one particular story from when he was a kid: “I was on The Spirit of Washington, which is this little boat that goes around the D.C. area, and there was an empty dance floor. Michael Jackson was playing. And I love to dance. So, I just went on the dance floor and started doing my thing. Next thing you know, I got a crowd of people around me throwing dollar bills on the floor. Michael and his music have always been a really happy place for me.” That genuine connection with Jackson’s art and music drives how Frost approaches every performance, he says, “I try to be as authentic in my performance as possible. If I feel something in a moment, I act on it. If I don't feel it, I don't act on it. I don't try to force a feeling because I want people to feel what I'm feeling in that moment.”
While it was initially those ties to his art that connected Frost and the character, he’s also found that he relates to the late artist as a person. “Michael, and I, our stories aren't too different when it comes to family dynamics,” Frost shares. He talks about how much Jackson’s relationship with his father Joseph in the musical mirrors the actor’s relationship with his own father. The overlaps that they share compound in Frost’s performance. “When I'm looking at those moments, the big emotions that you're seeing me experience are my real emotions as Myles,” he explains. “They just happen to also be some of the same emotions that I would assume that Michael went through in that time, as well. You're getting me and Mike at the same time, authentically.”
Since the beginning, Frost has been adamant not to treat the role as an impersonation—an important distinction as he faced the expectations of playing a music legend with die-hard fans. How did he manage his way through the pressures of the living up to audiences’ dreams?
Frost answers, “It’d be easy to fall into a depression of sorts because you don't feel like you're living up to the expectations that everybody else is putting on you.” But as the actor points out, you can’t please everyone: “You can only do the best that you can do. So, if you make that the focus, then you get the best product that you can create.” For Frost as an artist with such a focus on emotional authenticity, being released from the strict confines of impersonation is vital to having that creative freedom.
The show’s writer Lynn Nottage and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon also give the actor the creative freedom to experiment with making small changes in the show. He even changes up the choreography for one of the dance numbers, though which one remains a surprise Frost keeps to himself (which is probably why for many audience members, MJ holds up to a rewatch).
“I love stretching myself as an artist. I'm pushing my cast to do the same,” Frost says. “You have to realize, I've had people come up to me say, ‘Oh, my God, this is my 27th time seeing the show.’ Even though that's really flattering, I don't want them to feel like they've seen the same exact show 27 times." Adding something new, creating those Easter Eggs, he says, are to catch the eyes of those fans who keep coming back.
It’s not always Frost surprising the fans, though. Sometimes, the audience surprises him. Once at the beginning of the show, a little five- or six-year-old kid said, loud enough to hear, “I love you, Myles Frost.” The actor remembers, “It was the first time I had a little kid say my name. I'm not gonna lie, I broke character for a split second. I smiled a bit.”
As Frost seeks to develop himself into a source of inspiration for the kids in the audience, he in turn continues to look towards his own: the late Chadwick Boseman. “Boseman is somebody who I use as a template, not only for my acting career, but he was just such a humble guy, such a humanitarian,” Frost shares. Boseman became a household name when he originated the role of T’Challa, also known as the Black Panther, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Too soon, however, the actor passed away from cancer at the age of 43 in 2020. Frost’s admiration for Boseman is even visible on the actor’s Instagram profile where he links to Boseman’s foundation. “I really do look to him as a role model,” says Frost. “I appreciate how he carried himself, and how even the roles that he decided to do held such importance and substance. I want to be a vessel of impact to other people in the same way that he did.”
Boseman’s social impact as an artist is unquantifiable, and it raises the question of how to carry the weight of making history, a mantle which has also been laid across Frost’s shoulders. Having won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical at 22 years old, Frost is the youngest solo winner of the category (Billy Elliot the Musical’s David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish shared winning the award in 2009 for playing the lead as teenagers).
It’s a question which Frost answers with humility. “I don't think anybody who makes history knows necessarily how to carry it outside of being consistent in what you do,” he says. “I don't think I need to change the way I walk or change the way I talk or change the way I interact with people. I feel like being who you are all the time and not wavering from that is what got me here. I feel like continuing to be that person, continuing to have that kind of humbleness and that kind of attitude towards the things that I pursue is the way I'm going to keep, hopefully, making those giant milestones and continue to make history.”
MJ’s anniversary arrives just days before the Grammy Awards, and the musical’s original cast recording has been nominated for Best Musical Theatre Album. Frost’s date for the Grammys, like the Tony Awards, will be his mom and sister. Looking forward to what’s next, the actor hopes to explore acting onscreen and pursue his music with the hopes of continuing “to be in conversations with beautiful talent and gifted people is something that I pray for the rest of my career.”
Frost is mum for how long he intends to play the King of Pop on Broadway. But when he does move on to the next thing, however, this star will carry the last year and all of its lessons with him. “I’ll take that work ethic that I've learned from MJ. I'm so curious and excited to see what comes out of that, so I'm just going to hit the ground running,” he says softly, but with conviction in his voice. “Whenever God says my time is up at MJ, I'm gonna respect that time, respect my body, and start focusing on expanding my talent and artistry.” Or to quote the King of Pop, Frost won't stop 'til he gets enough.
See images from Playbill's exclusive photoshoot with Tony winner Myles Frost.