Opening in 2009 at the Lyric Theatre, Thriller Live is a musical like no other. Celebrating the music of Michael Jackson, the concert showcases his unforgettable music and dazzling choreography. Now in it’s tenth year in the West End, Thriller Live has embarked on a world tour, a sell-out UK arena tour, played over 5,000 shows worldwide to over 4 million fans, visited over 30 countries and entered the West End record books by becoming the longest running show in the Lyric Theatre’s 125 year history. As the 16th longest running musical in the West End, Thriller Live continues to delight audiences nightly with the King Of Pop’s music in an eye-popping spectacular celebration.
Thriller Live is unlike other West End musicals. There is no script or story and instead attributes a story or theme to each song- a bouncing 20s inspired club, a city street, a hotel and a lovers tryst. The show explores Jackson’s music from his work with the Jackson 5 to his brilliant solo career. Changing each year with new numbers, Thriller Live features specially created video footage and choreography by the show’s award-winning director, Gary Lloyd. Featuring Billie Jean, Thriller, Dirty Diana, Man In The Mirror, Beat It, Black or White, Smooth Criminal and many more, the cast of Thriller Live perform well with high energy dances and the pulsating sound of many of pop’s greatest hits.
With many moving LCD screens, a multileveled platform set and visible lighting truss on both sides of the stage the Lyric Theatre is suitably set out to deliver a fantastic concert. While the vocalists all performed well and the dancing was highly energetic, as a whole I found the show lacking substance and reminiscent of a cruise ship impression show. The show premiered in 2009 and hasn’t dated well. The band are covered throughout the show, resulting in a very produced design sounding like backing tracks until they’re revealed halfway through act one. Having the band visible maybe on another platform at the back of the stage above the performers would give a visual punch, is more suitable to the shows concert setting and would add to a relaxed party atmosphere. While the LCD screens were effectively used in part, their use became gratuitous as at one point they displayed red curtains and parted to reveal real red curtains behind hiding the band. It was hard to tell who was singing what, background vocal singers were not visible throughout most songs. With the dancing ensemble not singing, one had to wonder if the background vocals were recorded tracks. Having the vocalists onstage at microphones stands singing background vocals would elevate the performance again.
The last song of the first act was Jackson’s hit Can You Feel It, a fun disco party song. On the last few bars of music, two dancers appeared onstage with rainbow flags and a rainbow appeared on one of the LCD screens. While I understand the show’s attempt to celebrate LGBT+ pride, it seemed tacked on to the end a song that has nothing to do with LGBT+ themes and no LGBT+ characters. As a member of the LGBT+ community, this brief move of solidarity appeared as a way to superficially capitalise on a much broader movement and struggle and as a result I was left speechless at the end of act one. In the original Can You Feel It music video, a rainbow briefly appears, was the appearance of rainbow flags a reference? In my opinion, a more appropriate song to explore LGBT+ themes would be his 1983 hit Human Nature with the words “If they say why… tell ’em that it’s human nature. Why… does he do it that way?”
The world has access to Michael Jackson singing his own songs on vinyl, CD, cassette, video and now digitally through services like Spotify and iTunes. As a fan of Jackson’s music and theatre, instead of vocal impressions of the man himself from both the male and female vocalists in the show I would have appreciated a mix of impressions and his music explored with some new arrangements, freeing the vocalists of their constraints and allowing them to interpret the songs and deliver truly stunning vocals.
As a whole, the show begs for a revamp bringing it up to date with tweaks to staging, choreography and arrangements. With tickets prices for West End shows rising and an ever expanding choice I think audiences expect and deserve more than what the current production of Thriller Live offers. Don’t get me wrong, as a party show Thriller Live works as is evident from it’s long running success on the West End and I was tapping my feet along with everyone else to the well known and much loved songs.
After the 4,428th West End performance of the record-breaking show, on what would have been Jackson’s 61st birthday, audiences were invited to celebrate his legacy by purchasing tickets to mingle with the cast and creative team and dance the night away. The Thriller Live Summer Party at Planet Hollywood included a commemorative VIP laminate and lanyard, drinks vouchers and buffet style finger food. After seeing the show, audiences could keep the party going by purchasing a ticket and attending the Summer Party as the perfect way to celebrate Machel’s unforgettable music!
Reviewed by Stuart James
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