Lacks the theatrical drama of some of its London rivals, but outshines them for sheer reverie and relentlessness.
This production, which covers the musical career of Michael Jackson, doesn’t stoop to storytelling like many of its current ‘famous musicians’ musical’ contemporaries. Where Jersey Boys or Sunny Afternoon act as a broader ‘life and times’ portrayal of Frankie Valli or The Kinks, with their stories told through the music, Thriller Live is a two and a half hour revolving door of a hit-machine spanning his days in The Jackson Five right up to his continual success with new material in the 1990s. It’s a celebration of a man by recreating a concert in his absence. Arguably he had so many classics the producers had no choice but to choose this approach. The torrent of much-loved songs is possible only through having seven lead vocalists recreating various stages of Jacksons’ career – this is a window into the constant versatility and dynamism required of both the original man and this show.
The structure of the show, much like a concert performance, allows the ‘Michaels’ to interact with the audience, calling them to stand and join in the dancing or sing along during the extended encore of medleys. It’s a crowd-pleaser which appeals to our baser instincts to sing and dance. It does this with phenomenal success, avoiding any thought of confronting the darker areas of Michael’s life which might prove problematic.
New lead Reece Bahia breathes fresh life into a musical that is well passed its 3300th performance. Dancing on a raised platform, singing Dirty Diana in a billowing white shirt was one of the individual highlights of the night. The smile on his face made it look as though he had won a competition – Charlie Bucket style – to perform and fulfil all his dreams. In a way he had. You can imagine the mirror, the comb and the determination of his teenage years which have allowed him to achieve something he set out to do when he was only nine. He is a mere 21 and was a little nervous as one of the first to speak and gabbled his opening patter slightly. All the leads have an uncanny talent for mimicking The King of Pop’s trademark dances and vocals. Cleo Higgins (previously of Cleopatra pop fame) also stands out, not only as a female iteration of Jackson, but for her power in the more recent numbers.
The performers all look as though they are having a ball. The intricate choreography is tremendous as it also must shift through the grooving sixties to the pop-and-lock, hip-hop dominated ‘90s.
Naturally, the moonwalking-intense, white-suited Smooth Criminal is a favourite and don’t worry because Black or White is held back for the rousing end section which includes the political charged, life-affirming Earth Song. This is one of the songs used to more overtly praise Jackson as a person, not just a musician. There is mention of his untimely death but appreciation is largely shown through his work and by the joy of those performing it.
This ‘musical’ is fantastic fun and lifts the Lyric Theatre to its feet. It does lack the theatrical drama of some of its London rivals, but outshines them for sheer reverie and relentlessness. They’ve added a few extra pyrotechnics, tweaks to the lighting backdrops and a few new faces. With Jackson fans the world over it will no doubt continue to break records.