REVIEW: Thriller Live (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★
Thriller Live was performed in the West End for the first time in 2006, embarking on its first UK tour and eventually finding a home at Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in 2008, making it one of the longest running shows in the West End. With tours and shows currently playing in over 31 different countries.
Whatever your thoughts on Michael the man, there is no denying that Michael Jackson the musician was unbelievably talented and his record sales totalling over 1 billion and his earnings last year (2017), 8 years AFTER his death, were over $75 million. So I approached this show with no idea what it was – a musical? A concert? A tribute act? But after seeing it, I can tell you it is a spectacular.
Essentially a greatest hits album on stage; with the songs performed by a number of ‘Jackos’, of different genders, ages and races. Shaquille Hemmans, Adriana Louise, Eddy Lima, Rory Taylor and Resident Director Britt Quintin were all vocally outstanding, giving some amazing versions of Jackson’s songs. The production starts with the early sounds of Jackson 5, actually starting from ABC, before giving us the best of his solo material, including the Thriller and Bad albums.
Eddy Lima embodied the spirit of Jackson best of all and was able to perfectly replicate Jackson’s mannerisms, including the famous moonwalk, incredibly well. Rory Taylor also impressed during the slower and more soulful numbers, giving a hauntingly beautiful version of She’s Out of my Life.
The dancing, it has to be said, shone along side the vocals, accomplished as they were, but let’s face it, Michael was all about the dancing, and it was mesmerisingly good throughout. The brilliant band (Andy Jeffcoat, Rob Minns, Allan Salmon, Jo Phillpotts, Gordon Wilson, Johnny Copland and Tom Arnold) mixed rock, soul and pop and provided emphatic musical support. It was fantastic to see them in vision during some of the show’s epic guitar solos.
The staging was clever and vibrant, supported by some excellent lighting and pyrotechnics. A screen at the back of the stage is used for some clever effects and works neatly in tandem with the choreography. The set is stripped back, with just two sets of steps and a raised catwalk the only permanent fixture, but it is used unbelievably well by the performers, while every piece of additional set, alongside the props, are tailored to bring that extra hint of nostalgia to each song.
Nothing about this show is cheap. It’s a lavish celebration of the life and songs of the King of Pop and it’s a wonderful night out. There is a lot of snobbery about Thriller Live in the theatre world and whether or not it qualifies as a West End show. But a Downs Syndrome gentleman sat by me, was dancing in his sparkly jacket, hat and single glove, loving every minute of the show. His joy was infectious and when it comes to theatre, that is really all that matters.
Reviewed by Susan Lindsay