This night marked the 4,000th performance of the world’s ultimate tribute to the immortal work of Michael Jackson, exploding on to the stage with a packed programme of his greatest hits – of which there is an unprecedented amount. The vocals of Michael were shared between a handful of lead vocalists, and we had one performer dressed as Michael throughout, accompanied by a live band and a large cast of highly-skilled dancers – from the moment the curtain went up, we were in the right seats to be entertained.
Michael is known for being the King of Pop, but his skillset intermingled with rock and soul throughout his career, which spanned multiple decades. The show boasts a thorough and well-selected lineup of songs, easing us in from where it all began – The Jackson Five. The talented and charismatic Xhanti Mbonzongwana played our young Michael, jazzily dressed in the iconic flares, and added a youthful authenticity to the performance. The tracks continued through the eras roughly in chronological order, with songs moving smoothly into one another. Seeing all of MJ’s major hits back to back really drills home how versatile he was as a performer: from soulful ballads to unapologetic pop, to spellbinding rock. Vivienne Ekwulugo was particularly fantastic as the lead female vocalist, exhibiting such timeless class onstage and whose vocals added spectacular range. Kieran Alleyne is our Michael, imitating his vocals and skilful moves with intensively-studied, utter and complete precision – a stage presence both commanding yet humble.
Tonight’s performance starred a special guest, none other than Peter Andre. Peter was a very suitable fit for this show, due to his vocal style being quite similar to that of Michael’s in softness and range. Peter tackled songs such as ‘She’s Out of My Life’ and ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’, both requiring a strong emotional connection to the content in order to resonate as genuine and heartfelt. As a guest in a cast of very powerful vocalists, especially when playing tribute to an artist such as Michael, Peter held his own and earnt his place alongside them.
Musically, this show is wildly entertaining, but it is also a captivatingly visual one, too. The number of costume changes was vast, a full change per almost every song, and the attention to detail was excellent, mirroring all of the classic outfits. ‘Smooth Criminal’ was an absolute delight, with the iconic forward lean and moonwalk raising the roof. The executive director and creator of the original concept, Adrian Grant, knew Michael Jackson personally and had spent time with him in the years before his untimely death in 2009. Grant’s inherent respect and admiration for Michael’s character, humanitarian efforts and music translates authentically to the stage, seen in the thorough approach to the vocals, dancing and visual effects.
I particularly enjoyed the focus on audience engagement in this show; we were encouraged to get up on our feet, hands in the air, contributing to the vocals of ‘Black and White’ and just generally having a boogie. The dancing was supercharged throughout, integrating a countless number of styles and masterful accuracy with some of the breakdancing and complexity of the routines. The performance of ‘Thriller’ was much-anticipated and did not disappoint, and ‘Earth Song’ was sensitively performed and therefore very moving.
I’m certain that many theatre-goers were already playing ‘Billie Jean’ on Spotify before they reached the tube, because the show is simply infectious. Whether you’re a serious MJ fan or not, you’ll enjoy this for the sheer entertainment value and the amount that it engages the senses. To truly appreciate his legacy in its full glory, ‘Thriller Live’ is an absolute must.
Reviewed by Laura Evans
Photo: Betty Zapata