Created by Adrian Grant
Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue
Despite some casting decisions which appear to pander to political correctness, the sheer majesty of the musical performance will ensure that this MJ-homage will surpass Queen and Abba as West End staples.
In an attempt to coyly sidestep the black or white issue, we get both. The result is a sense of strained democracy, with the five Jackson stand-ins equably sharing the material. James Foster, one of the Jackson quintet, is archetypal Take That, not a man in the mirror.
Jackson's colourful life was always going to be an elephant in the casting room corner. How do you cast a black man who surgically rendered himself white? It is certainly a racial banana skin, and, I guess, casting both sides of Jackson's personality was one of the smarter options.
The mise-en-scène is disco-heaven meets afro-orgy; particularly early on as the Jackson 5 wiggle and wail through their hits. The young Jackson on this night - one of four rotating to appease school chiefs - was almost a sonic simulacrum of the boy himself. However, enjoying the early scenes, complemented as they were by some cumbersome and sobering narration, was not as easy as ABC.
Things hit their flared stride soon enough. The intensity of the dancing was striking: a relentless tide of frenetic yet measured ninja-yoga. Men, wearing variations of very little, operated like spinning-tops; ladies, shifting from street to chic fashions, moved limbs like spasmodic chop-sticks. The only match for the energy was the synchrony. How an ensemble can dance with such breathless cohesion only Obama knows.
You could have asked him, in fact. Obama, along with Mandela and King and Kennedy, scrolled across the electronic backdrop in the aftermath of change-focused track 'Man in the Mirror'. To equate Jackson, who has done as much to alienate himself as he has to ingratiate himself, with such men is a bit naïve. Celebrate the musician, but do not enshrine him as a paragon of human virtue. Nor should Obama, who up to now has only traded in promises and intent, be quite so readily admitted to any pantheon.
Minor bones to pick were always going to be found. Jackson's career and life are so densely charged with talent and incident that any attempt to produce a musical biography would face difficulties. Thankfully though, the chief effect of this production is one of enthrallment. The music is ably performed by a live band; Jackson's back catalogue is performed by singers of unusual ability; the dancing is a feat of human ingenuity and endurance; the atmospheric pyrotechnics are carefully extravagant. The event, on the whole, is electric.
Until April 12th
Reviewer: Ben Aitken