Certain musicians should, nay, must have musicals written about them. Michael Jackson is undoubtedly one of these artists.

Queen and Abba have highly successful musicals written about them and it seems natural that someone larger than life like the King of Pop would have one written about him.

The material is certainly there in the sense of the absolutely unique and bizarre life that Mr. Jackson has lived. So it was initially quite perplexing as to why director Adrian Grant decided to forgo this goldmine of material and simply stage a tribute show?

To put it simply, it is due to the hugely diverse demographic of Michael Jackson.

This diversity is what is initially so striking about this show; the audience is literally impossible to put in one box. On my left was an old Indian man and to my right was a young bi-racial couple. I hate making absolute statements but if I was to make one, it is that no musician has a more diverse fan base than MJ. It is never un-cool to like him.

The set is simple and minimalist, with just a huge screen that repeatedly announces in huge writings all of MJ’s previous achievements. This seemed unnecessary and distracting, as most of the audience did not need convincing how great their idol was.

The show opened with 13-year old Kieran Alleyne as young lead vocalist in nostalgia-laden and rousing renditions of Jackson 5 hits like ‘I Want You Back’ and ‘ABC’. While the young singer has a lot of presence and successfully echoes a young Michael Jackson, he reveals an early flaw in the show.

Sometimes in the midst of all the controversy we forget how immensely talented Michael Jackson is and that we would have to be slightly tolerant to musicians with vastly inferior vocal capabilities. But this was no show to gauge vocal abilities; this was simply a celebration of a selection of songs that refuse to age.

The first half of the show introduces various seasoned theatre singers performing MJ songs with little or no attempt to be particularly theatrical except for the highly energetic back up dancers. A particular highlight was Denise Pearson (a former child star herself) whose rousing performance of ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ was not only amazing but highly individualized. It’s very hard not be entertained by the sheer volume of popular and familiar hits. It was interesting to see that the female and the child vocalists were the most successful in re-imagining Michael Jackson’s songs.

The second part of the show picked up in tempo and was certainly more of a show due to some highly acrobatic choreography, more eye-catching costumes and the famous routines.

Ricko Baird, the lead dancer, knew exactly what the crowds came for and. before long, had them eating out of his hands. Unlike the vocalists, he did not veer from the script, instead simply recreated (as much as the set would allow) classic routines from ‘Smooth Criminal’ and ‘Thriller’. The whole theatre was on its feet. – and remained there as with the audience absolutely screaming for more.

Thriller Live! is an energetic, entertaining show refreshingly devoid of any pretensions; whilst avoiding any involvement in the highly controversial lifestyle lived by ‘the Gloved One’.

This is a show written, directed by and performed by fans, made for fans. While this does not stop it becoming a good show, you are left with a slight feeling that a more interesting musical could be written here.

(And reminds you of how much we’d all love to see a show from the King of Pop himself. Here’s wishing for that.)

Thriller Live is on at the Lyric Theatre – West End, London until April 12th 2009.

Tickets: Lyric Theatre, West End: 0844 412 4661
Book online.


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