REVIEW: MICHAEL STARRING BEN (London Palladium) ★★★★

The King of Pop was kept well and truly alive at the London Palladium on Saturday. Ben Bowman, the UK’s leading Michael Jackson tribute act, lit up the West End stage with his powerful and accurate renditions of MJ’s classics.

Bowman grew up in the Isle of Sheppey, and was first drawn to Jackson aged eight, when he went to the Dangerous tour at the old Wembley Stadium in 1993. He was enamoured by the voice and dance moves of the superstar, and when he was a teenager, his friends were already telling him that he sounded very similar to Michael Jackson when he sang.

Since Jackson’s death, ten years ago (and for a few years prior), Ben has toured the UK, wowing audiences with Jackson’s trademark dance moves, hair flicks and crotch grabs.

The most prestigious gig of Bowman’s exciting career, at the Palladium, had the crowd up on their feet, singing along to some of the most well-known pop songs in history.

Ben opened the show with Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, and covered classics including Blame It On The Boogie, Earth Song, and Black and White, where both Ben and his guitarist joined the crowd, amid mild hysteria…at least, for the Palladium.

There was something about the first act which meant that the crowd didn’t quite feel like they could jump to their feet and dance to the music. Whether it was the song choices or the energy in the room, the audience were ready for something a bit different in the second act.

And boy, did Ben deliver! Heading back to the older songs, the tribute act belted out everything from ABC to Bad, with some Smooth Criminal and Thriller added in for good measure. Man In The Mirror heard the entire audience in great voice, and Billie Jean was one heck of a finale. There was glitter. There were sequins. And, of course, there was *that* sparkly glove.

The moment of the night, for me though, was when Ben sang I’ll Be There. The spontaneous shining of phone torches by the audience, waved in time to the song, was truly lovely to see, and Ben was visibly moved. It endeared him to us, and there were certainly a few damp eyes in the theatre.

There is somewhat of a taboo around tribute acts, and the cringe factor surrounding them. That may never change. But what Ben Bowman managed to encapsulate, was the sheer love of the public for Michael Jackson, alongside his unique style, voice, look and personality.

The Michael Starring Ben tour has dates throughout the UK in 2019, so check it out – it really is a Thriller!

Reviewed by Luisa Gottardo

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