Performance Run: Monday 7th - Saturday 12th March 2016
Performance Reviewed: Monday 7th March (Press Night)
Perhaps the greatest complement that can be directed Thriller Live’s way is that it is genuinely worthy of bearing the works and mantle of the late, truly great Michael Jackson. Whilst never being the most overt or devout of fans of the undisputed King of Pop, one can nevertheless comfortably acknowledge the incredible contribution he made (and in some ways continues to make) to music, and there are surely very few who would argue that his magnum opus Thriller remains to this day quite probably the greatest album of all time.
It is unsurprising then, to see this stage adaptation of his unparalleled catalogue of hits - Thriller Live - continue to prove itself a success both in London and beyond, with its latest tour arriving in Birmingham this week at the City’s New Alexandra Theatre less than two years after last running at the same venue. And it isn’t particularly difficult to see why it continues to prove so popular - Thriller Live presents exactly what one would expect going in; a full-on, flat-out greatest hits reel featuring a slew of quite simply some of the greatest pop, disco and soul songs ever put to record.
Not being a particular fan of the concert jukebox musical - being one of the seeming few who is not a particular fan of either Jersey Boys or Let It Be, for instance - Thriller Live earns particular credit for not attempting to shoehorn in a paper-thin narrative or, worse, a half-baked rags to riches origin tale that plagues so many of its contemporaries. Shedding any such baggage or artifice, from the outset Thriller sets its stall as a joyous, upbeat celebration of Jackson and his music, and it is all the more accessible and enjoyable as a result. The fewer scenes of concerned mothers of talented yet troubled artisans, manipulative and overbearing record producers or frustrated stay-at-home wives stood weeping at the end of a telephone that are put on stage, the better.
Thankfully, as mentioned, Thriller troubles itself with no such theatrical flannel, and instead charges through over thirty different numbers, from the Motown and Disco jaunts of The Jackson 5 to his dazzling solo career with hits from albums including Bad, Off The Wall and, of course, the titular Thriller. Each of these is given its own set piece, performed by any number of the five lead vocalists and a truly exceptional supporting dance troupe; the choreography, as expected, is simply sensational. The approach to each number is of varying complexity, with unsurprisingly the most iconic songs getting the biggest productions - ‘Billie Jean’, ‘Earth Song’, ‘Smooth Criminal’ and in particular ‘Thriller’ all genuinely show-stopping in their execution. There are a couple of duds here and there, particularly in the first Act - see for instance production logistics rendering ‘Rockin’ Robin’ and much of the Jackson 5 numbers to either video screen projections or performances from the adult cast compared to the younger performers of the London show - but it all moves at a brisk enough pace, and pulls itself through its wobblier moments on the strength of the music alone.
Curiously, Cleopatra Higgins (of 90’s girl group ‘Cleopatra’) gave an energetic, feisty performance with great vocals as the female lead vocalist in Act I of the performance reviewed, but was replaced in the second half of the show for unknown reasons by understudy Angelica Allen. Although not explained, it was an interesting opportunity to see both Higgins and her understudy perform, with Allen stepping in and owning every inch of the stage with just as much confidence, presence and arguably even stronger vocals.
Thriller Live does exactly what it advertises, and thankfully does not fuss itself with anything more. Even casual appreciators of Jackson may be surprised over the course of the evening to realise just how many seminal, instantly recognisable and irrefutably iconic songs he produced, and almost every one of them will likely move you in some fashion - be it getting you up on your feet jamming along, or soul-searching and fighting back the tears to the ebbs of ‘Man in the Mirror’.
Is it a perfect musical theatre experience? Of course not - it is in fact far closer to a contained tribute concert that can boast fantastic production values and some of the best pop tracks history has produced. For fans of MJ, it is an absolute must-see, and for those even half-enthused, Thriller Live continues to prove itself a fantastic evening’s entertainment positively bursting with that infectious Jacko spirit and a touch of his undeniable genius. And if all this appraisal has sounded a trifle fawning, it might be worth noting it is all coming from someone who went into Thriller Live not claiming to be a particularly big Michael Jackson fan.
Perhaps Vincent Price said it best, after all…
“For no mere mortal can resist… the evil of the Thriller”
RATING - ★★★★
THRILLER LIVE is running at the NEW ALEXANDRA THEATRE, Birmingham, from Monday 7th through to Saturday 12th March 2016.
CLICK HERE for more information on the show's run at the New Alexandra Theatre and to book your own tickets!
Alternatively, telephone the theatre's booking line direct on 0844 871 3011.
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