Myles Frost was born to play Michael Jackson. A nod from Tony confirms it.

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Manhattan audition destined to change 21-year-old Myles Frost’s life has come to a sudden and terrifying halt. And it was her mother, 230 miles away, who came to the rescue.

Armed with her son’s EpiPen, Charmayne Strayhorn got in the car with Frost’s teenage sister, Morgan Peele, and drove three and a half hours from Montgomery County, Maryland, to a service station near exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike. There, she handed the medicinal auto-injector to Frost’s manager. She handed it to the budding young actor, who, during the audition, had felt his throat close up and then broke out in hives. He had to retreat to his hotel room, struggling to recover.

Frost certainly did when testing resumed the next day. And that’s how a Broadway neophyte landed the role of pop megastar Michael Jackson.

There was also, of course, that other minor detail: When the allergies hit, Frost was in the midst of blowing up Lynn Nottage and Christopher Wheeldon, the book writer and choreographer and director of “MJ,” the biomusical that has been playing to packed houses at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theater since December. When the Tony Award nominations were announced last month, “MJ” racked up 10 nominations, second only to “A Strange Loop’s” 11, and included nominations for best musical and best actor in a musical: a certain Myles Frost.

I wasn’t looking forward to the new Michael Jackson musical. Then I saw it.

“We were starting to get desperate to find someone to fit the part,” Nottage recently recalled of that fateful spring 2021 audition. “And this very unassuming man walked into the room, and right in front of our eyes he transformed into Michael Jackson. We turned to each other with our mouths open. And we said, ‘What did we just see?’ ”

What they saw was a young man of extraordinary natural endowments and a serene, candid confidence.

“I didn’t know who these people were,” Frost, now 22, said via Zoom about facing a panel that included two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nottage and world ballet star Wheeldon. “I walk in, I have my little white fedora on and I say, ‘Hello, my name is Myles Frost and I’ll be auditioning for the role of Michael Jackson.’ Chris [Wheeldon] and I’m laughing at this now because, you know: you show up and say what you’re going to do, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, we know!’ ”

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The opportunity and responsibility that have been heaped on unproven talent is remarkable. Picture it: The first time he stepped onto the stage of a musical theater was his freshman year of high school and landed the role of Seaweed in “Hairspray” in a production in Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville. (“I’ll be completely honest with you. I’ve never heard of a ‘musical’ before,” Frost recounted.) 1,400 Broadway patrons, eight times a week, that you’re MJ incarnate. Singular voice, sequin glove, sneaky moonwalk and all.

“I grew up at that point,” Frost said of Wheeldon’s phone call with the offer. “I think it was the first time I experienced maturity in real time. I felt that I became an adult. At the time, I thought, ‘Okay, time to get out of the college party mentality. This is the beginning of Myles Frost as a grown man.”

In “MJ”, he is Jackson as a grown man. Two other actors play younger versions of the pop idol at various points in a vibrant dance show revolving around rehearsals for Jackson’s 1992 world tour. The focus is on Jackson’s artistic development and only tangentially touches on allegations of sexual abuse of children that involved him in police investigations and trials. Frost has had to contemplate that facet of the star’s history without internalizing it, because the efforts to become an MJ are so intense.

“If there was ever a time to say, ‘What did I get myself into?’ it would be when I was offered the part,” Frost said. “It was such a profound moment for me because I thought of all the different possibilities. You know, I thought about the accusations. I thought about the physical demands of this, then I realized that I would be doing this more times than Michael.”

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But not taking on the role was never a serious consideration. “I don’t think God puts you through something you can’t handle,” she added.

The road to Broadway began in the maternity ward of a Washington hospital. Frost grew up in nearby Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, the son of a single mother who worked as a systems engineer. Charmayne Strayhorn had a fierce love for God and an equally fierce faith in her children’s gifts: Around the neck of newborn Myles, named by her and her husband Irving Frost after jazz great Miles Davis, Strayhorn placed a small bib special.

“A star is born,” he said.

Critics would validate the inscription two decades later. “Mimicking Jackson’s breathy intonations, a man-in-charge voice that forces you to lean in to listen, Frost is magnetic, earthy, and mysterious,” I wrote in my opening night review. “You feel the eerie presence of someone who could float away at any moment in a ‘Wizard of Oz’ balloon basket.”

Strayhorn insists that he felt it prenatally. “He was active inside of me, you could see my belly roll,” he said in a Zoom interview from his home in Gaithersburg. “And I felt that he was special in that sense. He didn’t know to what extent, of course, but at a young age, I instilled in him that you are a star. And you can do whatever you want to do.”

For Frost, that belief gave him a solid backbone, whether he was pursuing his youthful passions for golf and the piano, or charting the path to a career as a recording artist. “She’s always been like this since I was a kid,” he said. “She always supported me in everything and she was always there when she needed something. Just like you are born with talent, I think that being born into a world with a mother like that is definitely a gem.”

Mother and son acknowledge that financial constraints forced them to move around a lot with Frost’s sister (who is 17 and wants to be an entertainment lawyer). But Strayhorn’s disciplined approach to fatherhood kept daily struggles from blurring his focus. “He had his teenage moments, but he was a really nice kid offstage, with an amazing family who were very supportive,” recalled drama teacher Jessica Speck, who was teaching at Wootton at the time and directed Frost in “Lacquer.” For the hair.

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Carla Ingram was Wootton’s choir teacher and the first person to point Frost onto the stage. One day, she found him playing the grand piano in the choir room. “She walks in and says, ‘Well, I hope there’s a voice behind that piano playing,’” Frost recalled. “I said yes, and she said, ‘That’s great because we need more kids for this musical. We are doing “Hairspray”. ‘ Oh? As if she had never heard of it.

“It was the right voice at the right time,” Ingram said. “His poise and energy from him are very positive.”

Years before, Strayhorn had sent Frost to audition for commercials. But it wasn’t until he was a teenager posting his performances on YouTube: he sang “On My Mind” by Jorja Smith for example, and the Usher and Alicia Keys song “My Boo” — that people in the business began to pay attention and Frost took lessons from actor and producer Leland Thomas. Those efforts led to the audition for “MJ,” after Ephraim Sykes, the actor originally cast to play Jackson, left the production.

As a result, that newborn’s bib became a prophecy, culminating, perhaps, on Sunday night when the Tonys were doled out.

“I was told that Michael Jackson didn’t understand starting from scratch and going 100 percent,” Frost said. “Michael only understood going into the room 100 percent and then seeing how far he could go.

“There was no way I could go through this process and not embrace that ideology, of always starting at 100.”

MJ, Lynn Nottage book. Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. At the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St., New York. mjthemusical.com/tickets. The Tony Awards will air June 12 on CBS and Paramount Plus.