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A CurtainUp London Review
What Thriller Live does offer is a high energy and very visual show with most of Michael Jackson's famous repertoire of songs and some explosive choreography. The songs start with a re-creation of the Jackson Five, back to the psychedelic days of the late 1960s with big Afro hair and wide flared, shiny trousers, the group featuring a boy as the Young Michael (Kieran Alleyne, Sterling Williams, Layton Williams, Ashton Russell). The opening number is "Music and Me"
Four main singers take over from the Jackson Five to sing Michael Jackson's solo repertoire recordings from 1971: a disparate quartet, they are a black girl, a white man, a tall black man and a black South African. None of them looks like Michael Jackson but they all have powerful voices. Denise Pearson is an English singer and song writer who was the lead vocalist in the group "Five Star" with her four siblings from 1983 to 2006 when the group disbanded. She has a sassy stage presence and her first number "I'll Be There" is sung with supreme confidence. I've just played the U Tube recording of Michael Jackson singing "I'll Be There" acapella and it sends the shivers down your spine. Of course with the benefit of hindsight we can see that this tremendous talent encroaches on Michael Jackson's opportunity to be a child.
Digitised screens at the rear of the stage project headlines and photos of Jackson's career as spotlights bathe the auditorium in coloured light and psychedelic patterns swirl in pinks, reds and blues. The screens or the narrator tell us to expect the first tour of the UK in 1972, for the era of Disco music.
Ben Foster gets a huge audience reception as he sings the ballad "She's Out of My Life" and the hip number "Beat It". A huge red projected disco ball fills the stage and lighting effects see windmills of red lights turning for the fast dance numbers. South African singer dancer John Moabi gives an energetic performance and Roger Wright, who we remember playing Marvin Gaye in the soul musical Dancing in the Streets, interprets some of the Jackson songs with passion.
A live band supports the singers and dancers. Costumes are authentic and in period. The lighting effects by Nigel Catmur are what you would expect at a concert and Jonathan Park's bridge set gives playing on two levels.
This is a good show but what takes it out of the ordinary for me is the quality of the dance. The other lead dancers, especially Sean Williams, shine in versatility from the break dancing of the Street to disco and the Jackson specialist moves but one dancer looks like Michael Jackson and dances like him. Ricko Baird, who trained with Jackson in California, has mastered the Jackson Shuffle, the Moonwalk glide, the Jackson spins and the other original dance steps that Michael Jackson has made his own. In a white suit with a white hat tilted over his face, a ringlet escaping from the brim, with the same build and height, he could be Jackson himself. Ricko's stylish individual performances are show stopping with "Dangerous", "Bad" and "Black and White". There is the interpretation of the Egyptian with the Tutankhamen dance "Man in the Mirror" which has an uncomfortable feel as the projections are of Michael before and after surgery.
It is as if the show will end on "Heal the World" but we are all asking where is "Thriller"? Surely this can't be like Jailhouse Rock where they didn't have permission to play the title song? No, the crowd are not disappointed although for me the "Thriller" performance felt anti-climactic, probably because there was no time to create the horror makeup and the rubber mask used was inevitably a mask.
This is live theatre not filming and some very fast costume changes are required. A member of the original Jackson Five, Tito Jackson was in the audience for the London opening. I am from a generation that was not that into Michael Jackson's music and "Thriller Live" has opened my eyes to his outstanding contribution to choreography. The dance steps may not always have been thought up by him but his execution is iconic.
Thriller Live opened in London on 21st January 2009. During the singing of "Earth Song" photographs are projected of Martin Luther King, JFK, John Lennon, Bob Geldof, Bono, Nelson Mandela and then to a huge cheer and standing ovation, there's a photograph of the newly inaugurated President, Barack Obama. It was one of the most moving, memorable and thrilling theatre experiences.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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