Thriller: live

Music by Michael Jackson and others

Thriller Live and Flying Music

Opera House, Manchester

From 27 January 2014 to 01 February 2014

Review by Martin Thomasson

Neither a bio-drama nor a musical theatre fiction in the Mamma Mia style, Thriller: live is an unashamed Michael Jackson tribute show, exploiting the songs and dance routines that made him an enduring international star.

The Manchester crowd is just a little slow to warm to the show. Maybe they think clapping your hands in the air or getting up on your feet has to be earned (how old fashioned!). Or perhaps they feel the absence of the man himself. Whatever the cause, the performers continue to work hard and, as the show progresses, the response grows more enthusiastic.

The arrival of Sean Christopher to take on LaVelle Smith Jr’s memorable choreography for “Dangerous” draws the loudest pre-interval ovation. Christopher's footwork is snappy (moonwalk and all) and his passing resemblance to Jackson gives him something of an advantage over the other male vocalists in the show (and if he’s just a little too well-built to be called a lookalike, that’s mainly because MJ was, as we say in these parts, ‘as far through as a kipper’).

The other male leads, Tyrone Lee, Jesse Smith and Lascel Wood, all turn in fine vocal performances, lending able support to MJ’s claim to the triple title: ‘the Prince of Pop, the Prince of Rock, the Prince of R&B’.

Lee also finds himself lumbered with the occasional, rather sycophantic, commentary (not his fault). British audiences tend not to be charmed (or fooled) by this kind of hagiography (the mutterings around me suggest a sophisticated capacity to admire the songs, and even adore the artist, whilst remaining distinctly ambivalent with respect to the qualities of the man himself). Perhaps this would be better cut or left to the billboard-style headlines that open the show.

Whilst the men earn their places on the stage, it is the one female vocalist, Cleopatra Higgins, whose voice adapts most impressively to the demands of the music (a lovely rendition of “I’ll be There” is followed by a bouncy, gutsy “Blame it on the Boogie”).

After the interval, the focus switches to Jackson’s solo career. Andy Chisholm’s fine band of musicians show off their technique, and for a while are allowed centre stage (“Beat It”). Just a note here to the mixing desk—Johnny Copland’s bass guitar could be little less chest-thumping (but then again, I’m old).

Ensemble moonwalking (from Christopher and the male dance team) raises the roof on “Smooth Criminal”. The women also have their moments—watch out for the stylish mohican moves on “Dirty Diana”. Chloe Kerns catches the eye throughout; firing out extra photons of snap and fizz with every step.

Some iconic visual moments are revived from Michael Jackson's tours and videos (watch out for the virtual basketball and the electro-graffiti).

With “Thriller” as the climax and “Billy Jean” in the encore (more smart work from Christopher), the final verdict from this crowd is that this show is more than “Bad” enough.

There are standing ovations and whoops of approval, before the audience disperses into the damp Manchester night. Quiet snatches of the Michael Jackson songbook drift through the air from all quarters.