A,B,C...it’s easy as 1,2,3: If you like Michael Jackson, you’ll be bejewelled and bedazzled by this celebration of his career. Last week, Thriller Live! entertained a full house at Lyric Theatre to acknowledge the show’s 6th birthday in the West End, with new material and special effects built in to reflect its success. The rearrangement and additional songs are designed to shake your body down to the ground, but the most poignant injection to the show flow is Earth Song.
Brother, Tito Jackson, was guest of honour back in 2009 when Thriller Live! opened, and expressed the essence of the piece: “One of the beautiful things about my brother’s career is its longevity and the multiple generations of fans who enjoy it. His music has lived a long time, the songs are evergreen and will last forever.” Don’t think anyone can deny that. He’s defended his balls, hand in glove, better than anyone in the music business. And I think he genuinely wanted to heal the world.
Confession: I haven’t been drawn to Thriller Live! until now. I’ve actually moonwalked (badly) backwards from it. Concerned it would be a little off the wall or give me a fright. My BAD! It’s a thumping, high-octane, clever and fun representation of the man. No mirrors, lots of smoke, hyperactivity framed by LED screens of carefully programmed material with visual E numbers to put you into a thriller of a trance. This is one huge adrenalin surge. It transmits the electricity of his life, but also the beauty of his philanthropic ambition, his deep-thinking and undeniably crazy bent. Everything effuses heightened sensation and over-brilliance. You absorb his anger and hurt at life’s unfairness through the manic choreography and dramatic screen graphics, while being drawn in to the beat and rhythm of his soul. And the sympathetic interpretation of his repertoire here, together with the reflection of his genius…can you feel it? Can you feel it? Oh yes.
We begin with a young Michael, aged 9, followed by a playlist of every track you’d want to hear as a fan. This is fused with a firework display of dance and effects. There’s no major story-line as such, it’s just hit after hit, with occasional short narration to break up the sequences. Too short for me, but that’s because I’m a back-seat psychologist. The drama gets a little lost in the ‘non-stopness’ of it all. But I guess that mirrors the energy of Michael. In the ultimate fashion, he could show you the way to go, because he was a perfectionist performer.
Five cast members play the ‘adult’ Jackson across the course of Thriller Live! The fabulous dancer David Jordan, to the eye, captures Michael’s character most closely. But the voice of John Moabi, although quite unlike the main man in stature, grabs Jackson’s voice and re-lives it, with incredible feeling. He could be in the room. The rock-star look of Jesse Jones delivering ‘It Cuts Like A Knife’ had me shivering in a wonderful way, and the genius of bringing a female vocalist in for certain key songs, including the newly integrated Earth Song, hit yet another spot.
Intermittent audience participation occasionally feels a little panto-esque, but let’s face it, Michael was never conventional. There’s very little of HIStory (as in Jackson’s personal side) that comes across overtly. The show is cleverer, and beyond that. It has a global reach and reflects the kindness towards humanity that Jackson wanted to exude.
If you ask me to see it again, I’ll be there. But you can expect to be spinning on the spot for a while afterwards.
By Kate Braxton
Thriller Live has extended its booking
period to 6 September 2015
Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 7ES
Box office: 0844 482 9674 - www.thrillerlive.com
Tuesday to Friday -
Saturday - 4pm and 8pm
Sunday - 3.30pm and 7.30pm