A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!



 Flying Music in association with Adrian Grant presents


Thriller - Live


Photo by George Bondar


Director and Choreographer – Gary Lloyd


Original Concept and Executive Director – Adrian Grant


Musical Supervisor and Head Arranger – John Maher


Set Designer – Nigel Catmur


Lighting Designer – Dave Tozer


Sound Designer – Chris Whybrow


Video Content Designer – Colin Rozee


Original Choreography for ‘Dangerous’ – LaVelle Smith Jr.


Director and Choreographer for the 2007 Tour – Kerys Natham

Lyric Theatre


1,000th performance - May 26, 2011

Now Booking until January 22, 2012

Thriller Live offers a two hour long, all too brief tour of the amazingly diverse musical career of Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009), through his years spent performing with his brothers in the Jackson 5 (1966 -74) then, Jacksons (1975-84), touching on some of the large-scale triumphs of his solo years, (circa 1972 -2009) beginning with selections from the hit Quincy Jones produced album Off the Wall (1979). Jackson and Jones’ follow-up, Thriller (1982) continues to be the bestselling album of all time, worldwide, with Jackson’s creative outpouring garnering record breaking numbers of awards, and total record sales of 750 million! This stage show is, in many ways, thrilling for the caliber of its music, but it also serves as a fitting tribute to a songwriter/ performer whose ground-breaking, extraordinary body of work changed the faces of, as his close friend, Elizabeth Taylor stated on more than one occasion, pop, rock and soul.  

When it was still just a gleam in its originator Adrian Grant’s (long time associate of Jackson, and author of ‘Michael Jackson – The Visual Documentary’) eye in 1991, this show was simply a get together of fans called ‘The Annual Michael Jackson Celebration’, firstly, of 1,000 of them at Hammersmith Palais, at which time they celebrated Jackson’s music via a party and show in his honour. The event continued to expand over the years and in 2001, Michael Jackson himself attended the celebration, then featuring over 100 performers at Hammersmith Apollo, which he deemed, ‘beautiful and incredible.’ That compliment spurned the creation of a stage show and in 2005, Thriller Live premiered at London’s Dominion Theatre for one night only and, by 2007, the show was off on its’ first UK tour. Thriller Live finally opened at London’s Apollo Theatre, where it is today, in January 2009.  The show understandably became a focal point for fans of Michael Jackson in the aftermath of his tragic, untimely passing on June 25, 2009, and the rest as they say, is HIStory.

The day leading up to the 1,000th performance of Thriller was one of nearly monsoon like rain, and, as a result, as one record-breaking Jackson statistic after another about Michael and his famous brothers flashed onto an onstage screen, i.e. ‘the Jacksons, bump The Beatles off top of the charts’, it was impossible to see them all through the backs of the many latecomers lumbering through the rows. One fact however, has always been clearly fixed in the public consciousness – Michael Jackson was a star of epic proportions. For those of us who never saw Jackson perform live, this show offers little consolation, as it makes no attempt to duplicate the man himself; to even try that would be foolhardy. It does rather act as a celebration of the music of a performer whose changing styles were as intriguing, inventive, and, nearly as surprising as the media propaganda plaguing the man himself, with the UK press cruelly dubbing him ‘Wacko Jacko.’ Jackson had achieved such merciless fame by then that his personal life literally existed in Neverland. But this show is, thankfully, devoid of both speculation and, sour grapes. 

Each element in Thriller Live contributes to its’ satisfying whole, from Nigel Catmur’s large scale, concert like, deceptively simplistic metallic set, which, in reality, features projection spaces and performance enhancing possibilities galore, through the shifting eras evoked via Dave Tozer’s Lighting Design, Chris Whybrow’s Sound Design and Colin Rozee’s Video Content Design, all of which are in keeping with the rapidly changing time constraints which keep the performances of Jackson’s songs in context. Director/Choreographer Gary Lloyd had his challenges cut out for him in making a musical seem like a series of concert segments, but he managed to rather amazingly pull that off, despite any restrictions. Last but not least, Adrian Grant, who conceived of the idea for Thriller Live and in directing the show, has realized his vision, should be commended for holding onto it and making it into an enjoyable reality.

With a larger than life silhouette of Michael Jackson in smartly angled trilby spanning the back of the stage, shifting into familiar poses, ‘Jam’ (1992) made for a black and white, but nonetheless spectacular ensemble opening dance routine, amid beaming strobe lights and an infectious marching beat. This piece set the tone for a welcome flashback into the beginning of Jackson’s career, with the Jackson 5.

Seeing James Anderson performing live as the boyish Michael Jackson is, very likely, as close as you could ever get, sound-wise, to being in the company of the real McCoy, as his vocal range, styling, and winning onstage smiles exude buoyant sunshine and soulful exuberance. Onstage Jackson brothers, Marlon, Jackie, Jermaine, Tito and/or Randy breezed along with Anderson as Michael through ‘ABC’ amid claps and cheers of appreciation from the audience, dancing with their arms in the air as they launched into ‘The Love You Save’, after which they funky Broadwayed their way through ‘I Want You Back,’ assuring the excited crowd that it was going to be a great night, as they capably recreated the group’s original live performances. That’s what this show is all about - placing you in the midst of Jackson’s concert performances, rather than the mere singing of popular songs from his catalogue. The Jackson 5 segment of the show is about as close as Thriller - Live gets to being an actual tribute show, largely due to Anderson’s stunningly accurate vocals and warm stage presence, poignantly reminiscent of young Michael himself. This talented young singer also did Jackson proud on the opening verse of ‘I’ll Be There’ making for a genuinely thrilling moment, before handing the microphone to more adult singers, among them Trenynce Cobbins, Alex Buchanan, Britt Gilbert and John Moabi, creating the impression that Michael left the song for all of us, which is true, as this well-loved ballad is certainly a pivotal part of his vast legacy.

For this very special performance, the show was graced with young guest star, Shaheen Jarargholi, the Britain’s Got Talent contestant who, not only performed in a pre West End tour of Thriller, but had also been famously invited to perform with Michael Jackson in his This is It series of concerts here in London and instead wound up singing ‘I’ll Be There’ at Jackson’s memorial service at Los Angeles Staples Center on July 7, 2009. Jaragholi is now, barely recognizable from the boy he was then, but his voice is just as strong and emotive. Stepping through a swirling mist, Jaragholi took his turn on a verse of the ballad, literally bringing the house down in a show of thanks for his performance and the song itself.

Moving on through the sparkly disco era, we were treated to ‘live’ performances of the Jacksons’ and Michael Jackson classics like ‘Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)’ while bouncy, liquid looking hearts overlapped one another behind them on the scaffold like set and multi-coloured lights flashed. Nimble dancers kick stepped, jumping, feet apart, moving non-stop through one hit after another while the ‘Jacksons’ sang sweet harmonies in spangled tops and flares. The New York Skyline circa 1978 appeared as they grooved along, and girls in silver and white fringed outfits wriggled. ‘On Your Feet’ one singer, built like the slender MJ of recent years cried with limited results. In Michael’s country of origin, he would never have needed to encourage anyone to dance. ‘Blame it on the Boogie’ brought break-dancing, ‘Sunshine, moonlight, good time - boogie….’skip and drop dancing amid shouts and cheers.

Alex Buchanan offered one of the show’s most heart-felt high points with a marvelously soulful version of ‘She’s Out of My Life’ from Jackson’s ground-breaking Off the Wall. An older English woman shouted ‘Michael’ in an exaggerated tone above the stalls, amid a gaggle of intrusive titters, but it did not put Buchanan off and his focused, emotional rendering was ultimately, rewarded with thunderous applause.

Latex, big hair and sequins amid the sights and sounds of NYC as a cop on the beat, brief-case toting businesswoman, homeless man and street sweeper succumbed to the intoxicating ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ and danced along. The tighter than tight band, vocalists and singers shifted into ‘Rock with You’ as couples twirled, hustle style, women in one shoulder animal print tops and skin tight latex pants, men in dark shades, with ‘Studio 54’ burning brightly on the marquee. ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ became a tongue in cheek lament as Trenyce Cobbins, the only female lead singer in the show, fought off a legion of admirers clamouring for her shiny latex legged attention. A cleverly staged sequence allowed us to see the girls before the light-bulb rimmed mirror in the ladies room, with a bevy of projected females behind them sporting ‘80’s fluffed hair-do’s, fighting to see their reflections. ‘Don’t Stop til You Get Enough’ offered tempting riffs, but the audience still remained in their seats. ‘Can You Feel It’, performed with a number of projections and ‘military look’ outfits featuring epaulets and gold buttons, was full on, bringing us to a very thirsty (from watching the dancers knocking themselves out) interval.

‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, with dancers balancing on their hands in colourful skaters outfits made a great opener for the second half, especially as it progressed into ‘Dancin’ Machine’ and ‘P Y T Pretty Young Thing’. Though by the time the cast worked their way into Jackson’s classic ‘Beat It’ with a singer dressed in his trademark red jacket and the dancers giving their all, I was beginning to feel as though I was sitting in a sea of screaming statues. That was literally, it…Programme safely stashed, I was on my feet, dancing and singing along and others who’d had the same idea did likewise. Which was only fair, as Jackson spent 40 of his 50 years thrilling millions of fans around the world with his fantastically emotive singing and dancing. The guitarist, formerly hidden with the band behind a screen at the back of the stage, was down front, smiling at the audience, obviously pleased at all the cheering and, dancing.

For ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ the choreography seemed like a pastiche of styles, as the female dancers jumped from their feet to their knees and back again. The ballad ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ drew a roaring response, and as we rapidly advanced into MJ’s stylish white suited noir gangster (as opposed to ghetto gansta) period with ‘Smooth Criminal’ the singer and male dancers in suits swaying as though they’d fall, (achieved by MJ through patented shoes) and women in a cross between feathered Trojan helmets and Mohawk haircuts writhing up the stair cases on either side of the balcony-like platform above. The singer, in this case, Dwayne Wint, I believe, (it was difficult to see his face beneath the trilby) shrugged his jacket off and onto his shoulder a la Jackson as he took his place for ‘Dangerous’ his backup dancers providing contrast in black and red, with still more dancers projected behind them, to enhance the illusion that we were really, at a huge Michael Jackson concert, their gravity defying moves, drawing whoops. At that point, I rather dangerously, ditched my notebook in favour of first hand participation.

It was then time for the evening’s second special guests, Blue, who represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest to delight us, especially the women, many of whom loudly squealed at the very sight of the four mature, well built male singers on stage. I must admit that Blue really can sing up a storm in terms of soulfulness and their harmonies are very fine indeed. It was a real treat having each of them take a verse of ‘Man in the Mirror’ in turn and show us what they could do. Rather predictably, the largely homegrown crowd finally decided it was ok to get up then, but as Blue’s voices trailed off, the majority of stalls and circle sitters were safely seated again. Though, it had seemed for some time as though the real dance party was up in the gods. That said, as Dr. Martin Luther King, John Lennon and finally Michael Jackson himself were projected on to the screen, the ensemble did justice to ‘They Don’t Care About Us,’ in its’ video form, directed by Spike Lee, whom Jackson felt understood what he was trying to say. Military garbed dancers marched back onto the stage as Alex Buchanan once again took the lead on ‘Heal the World’ with it’s opening lines, ‘There’s a place in your heart, and I know it must be love’, before passing the mike to other singers, each of whom took a part. ‘Feed the World’ reminded us that we mustn’t forget Jackson’s untiring philanthropic example, especially as it related to under-privileged children around the world. Once again, Shaheen Jarargholi’s powerful voice soulfully elevated the song.

As if there wasn’t enough electricity in the room, the appearance of a mysterious figure in a lone white sequined glove, black trilby and sparkly black jacket heralded the performance of ‘Billie Jean’, Jackson’s tribute to groupies everywhere, accompanied on video by West Side Story (his favourite movie) style dancing, which was also, (and, thanks to the magic of video, always will be), a thing of beauty as he performed it in 1983, on the 25th Anniversary of Motown television special, the night he premiered his moonwalk to the world. Here and now, the crowd screamed relentlessly as feet slid across the floor, but there was an inevitable void as hollow as an echo within our responses that couldn’t be denied.

Show seemingly over, the cast left us, but this time we knew to stay where we were. Thriller would be the encore to end all encores, which it undoubtedly was, with everyone from floor to ceiling dancing. 

Thriller - Live is, in itself an encore of sorts - to the gloriously exciting, ever evolving music of Michael Jackson, whose songs have permeated our histories, however long or short they may be. We never wanted those songs to end. Thanks Michael, for the memories and to this show for keeping them alive.




Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1
Book online or call 0844 482 9674 (24hrs)
Tickets from £26.00

Editor’s Note: One of the best reasons to return to this show again, even if you’ve already seen it once, is that, as it is not a rigid, by the book musical, it is always subject to change.



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