Thriller Live, Lyric Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue
#Tweetingit – review in 140 characters: 5* Shamone + Hee Hee + Aaoowh = an incredible 2 hours of entertainment.
Walking down Shaftsbury Avenue I pondered exactly what ‘Thriller Live’ would deliver? A simple jukebox musical; a biographical piece with songs thrown in for good measure or a ‘stars in their eyes’ revue featuring a succession of lookalikes? In reality, it had elements of all three, but the extra ingredient was the energy displayed by an eager new cast paying tribute to the incomparable Michael Jackson. The Lyric is a beautifully set theatre slap bang in the middle of Shaftsbury Avenue. The seating is sumptuous and sightlines almost perfect, a rare quality for a theatre of its age.
The show wisely restricted the biography to a five minute segment at the beginning with occasional reference points along the way. The songs were presented in broadly chronological order, and started with a brief medley of hits from the Jackson 5 and then traced through the Jacksons era featuring the seriously funky ‘Blame it on the boogie’ and ‘Shake your body’. They swept through ‘Off the wall’, ‘Thriller’, ‘Bad’ and ‘Dangerous’ albums with an exhilarating sureness of touch and confidence. This was in no small part due to a talented, enthusiastic cast making light work of songs and routines they obviously know backwards.
The choreography was largely original interspersed with moves pioneered by Michael. Straight impersonations were also used sparingly. There was a portrayal of Michael as a precocious child star and during his sequinned glove phase. The latter role was played by the outstanding David Jordan, who not only looked like Michael, but sounded and moved just like him. I hate to single out individual performers because the entire cast were brilliant, but a big shout also has to go out to Cleo Higgins (ex-Cleopatra) and Haydon Eshun (ex-Ultimate KAOS) who showed real affinity for the songs. The six piece band was tight and just kicked it from start to finish. The track selection was pretty much on the money, although there were some surprising choices like ‘This place hotel’, an obscure track from the Jacksons’ ‘triumph’ album; and ‘dancing machine’, a minor 70s hit from Jackson 5 days. But there was no room for ‘Blood on the Dancefloor’ or ‘Remember the Time’? These are but minor quibbles and I promise to take my anorak off now.
Some may question whether this type of show belongs in the West End at all? Does a live concert sit comfortably with heavyweight plays like the Royal Court’s production of ‘Let the Right One In’, playing just next door at the Apollo? The fact the show is still going strong after six years might make this question redundant to some. But it still seems to be an issue for the purists among us. Personally, I think a show like this is what makes the West End a great entertainment centre. It proves British theatre is truly eclectic, innovative and diverse, catering for all tastes.
This is entertainment in its purest form, but it’s also a reminder of how a great talent was snatched away at a stupidly young age. If you have a pulse, you must go and see this show. It’s the freshest, funkiest show in town. The Prince of Pop is dead but Thriller is live and well!
Guest Reviewer: Brian Penn
Directed & Choreographed by: Gary Lloyd
Musical Director: John Maher
Set Designer: Jonathan Park
Lighting Designer: Nigel Catmur
Sound Designer: Chris Whybrow
Producers: Paul Walden and Derek Nicol for Flying Music in association with Adrian Grant for Key Concerts.
Box Office: 0844 482 9674
Booking until: 19 April 2015
My previous review starring Zoe Birkett: