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With a change of cast and introduction of new material ‘Thriller Live’ enters its 7th year. The audience know the drill: they sing, shout, clap and know exactly what they have come for, entertainment. Conceived by Adrian Grant, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s racked up over 2,520 performances. Is it a concert? A Jukebox musical? A tribute? Does it matter? After six years, I think the answer is, no. A fusion of sound, dance and design, ‘Thriller Live’ is an indulgence to be loud and proud; and maybe if you shout loud enough, to evoke the spirit of the King of Pop, himself; shaman-style.
The show features six lead vocalists who power through a string of Jackson hits, highlighting his idiosyncratic vocal thrills. There’s Jesse Smith, the rocker, Cleopatra Higgins on high notes, with the guttural clucks, chucks and pop R & B of Haydon Eshun, David Jordan, Ricardo Afonso, and master of ceremonies John Moabi. A razor-sharp Daniel Odejinmi is the young Michael. Yet like Queen’s Freddie Mercury, the show highlights, that ultimately, six can’t become one.
The songs, a catalogue of Jackson’s four decades as pop supremo, are for an old rocker, like a photo album of childhood from the kitsch-coloured, ‘70’s glam-disco, funk-trod ‘80’s to the new, leather-clad millennia. The introduction of ‘Earth Song’, accompanied by images of a scorched, barren land, present Jackson the ecologist. Images featuring Mother Teresa, Kennedy, John Lennon, Barack Obama, and ultimately Jackson himself, present a global humanitarian, a messiah. These make less comfortable viewing.
Yet the songs stand up. ‘Blame it on the Boogie,’ ‘Wanna Be Starting Something,’ the iconic ‘Thriller’ and the anthemia ‘Black and White,’ get the blood pumping. Jackson would welcome the cross-gender/race casting, particularly the inclusion of Cleopatra Higgins, who in moments not only sounds like Jackson but looks, in her fine features, remarkably like him too.
Dance is the ultimate winner. The electrifying, demanding choreography by Gary Lloyd, insane at times, is delivered with verve and energy by the company. While Jackson’s stand-out iconic moves, the moonwalk, the crotch-thrust, the robot et al are uncannily recreated by David Jordan. His slight figure, angle of the head and pipe-cleaner legs offer a visual immersion in the Jackson phenomena, complete with jewelled single glove, black hat and loafers. Sometimes it’s as if MJ is there right in front of you.
The production’s design, set Jonathan Park, lighting Nigel Catmur and video content Colin Rozee, is ingenious. In its re-creation of the Jackson’s, 70s’ cartoon beginnings to the block-buster graphics and LEDs of Michael Jackson’s solo concerts, it remains always grounded in theatre. Costumes, Shooting Flowers, offer a playful mix of colours, patterns and the dressing-up box, in variations of the military coats, favoured by Jackson, and the candy-spun fun of the ‘70’s and the outlandish ‘80’s; brought together in splendid, bondage-fusion in ‘Dirty Diana.’
Thriller Live is a tad long for a concert, with moments of audience participation, best left exclusively till the end, I think, and guys with mics offering nuggets about Jackson’s achievements or aspirations. Every time mawkish sentiment threatens to overwhelm, the songs cut through. This week marks 31 years since MTV first aired Jackson’s iconic video, ‘Thriller,’ all 13 minutes worth. It did change the world, in entertainment. Yet Thriller Live pulsates with sound, rhythm and life. In essence this is what Jackson was all about on stage. The show captures this through its dazzling choreography, sharp, cool graphics, most of the time, and first class music featuring disco, funk, pop and ballad. People create a legend. ‘Thriller Live ascends’...’I’ll Be There.’
Thriller Live John Maher, Adrian Grant, Tito Jackson Gary Lloyd,