Has there ever been a bigger, more iconic pop star than Jacko? Okay, so things went spectacularly wrong for the dude in his later years and perhaps he became more famous for his trials and tribulations than his tunes but put all that to one side for a moment and look at the facts. 750 million records sold (and counting). An album (Thriller) that stayed at number one in the Billboard top 200 album chart for 37 weeks. An estimated global audience of 500 million people for the first showing of his Black and White video debut. Winner of MTV’s Artist of the Millennium Award...and so it goes on. His death in 2009 hasn’t slowed things down either. In fact the cult of Jacko seems in better shape now that it has been for a good decade or so, something reflected by his latest award...world’s richest dead celebrity (with earnings of a staggering $160million in 2012 alone).
Whilst Thriller Live made its debut way back in 2006 when Jackson was alive and well...as well as could be expected that is...with his passing it’s now pretty much the only way you’re going to see and hear his music in a decent sized venue. Don’t expect faithful impersonations though, that’s not really the point of this show, it’s purely and simply a glorious celebration of one of the most remarkable back catalogues in pop. It sounds like a cliché but the hits really do come thick and fast (around 30 or so in two hours) with opening number I Want You Back all too quickly giving way to ABC. Just a minute or two into the performance (and not for the last time this evening either) the crowd’s already up and clapping. Now that’s unusual. This is a show that practically demands some form of audience participation though, but then again you’d need to be dead on the inside to resist the pretty relentless torrent of pukka pop classics unfolding in front of you.
With no live band in view at first it was tempting to suspect that the whole thing was being performed to a backing track but after a few numbers a screen went back to reveal actual living breathing musicians. It quickly shut again and they retreated Wizard Of Oz-like back behind their curtain. No idea why...personally I like to see a band playing in these jukebox musicals, it adds a little extra zing to things but that’s a minor gripe. I was amazed to see Level 42’s keyboard maestro Mike Lindup in the line up too, giving you some idea of the kind of calibre of musicians behind the scenes.
Of course Jackson was a song AND dance man so the physical aspect of the show is just as important as the sonic.
Some of the dance numbers and dancers were particularly impressive with David Jordan edging scarily close to Michael’s unique mix of fluidity and snap in Act I’s Dangerous routine and Act II’s Smooth Criminal, each one worth the price of a ticket on their own.
All of the vocalists were strong but particular praise must be reserved for Cleopatra Higgins (perhaps best remembered in her previous incarnation in all girl band Cleopatra...you know, the ones that did Comin’ Atcha!) who pretty much stole the show whenever she opened her mouth. Here's what she's capable of taken from her recent appearance on BBC's The Voice (can't seem to find any official Thriller Live vids with her on for some reason)...
Jesse Smith brought a little more of an edge to the rockier numbers too (a raunchy Dirty Diana was particularly memorable...who doesn't like to see scantily clad female Centurions eh?) reminding you that Jackson’s range extended beyond soul, disco and pop. Who knows what he'd have gone on to to do if he'd lived.
If you’re of a certain age you’ll have grown up with Michael’s music as the soundtrack to your life and this show’s a glorious celebration of it all. Sure, like all ‘jukebox musicals’ it’s a little cheesy in places (the disco slapstick of Blame It On The Boogie for instance) and if you’re not a fan of getting up and shaking yer booty a little...okay then, a lot... you might find yourself sinking into your seat from time to time but for everyone else on planet earth this is a pretty much unmissable treat. All Thriller, no filler.