Thriller Live

Original concept by Adrian Grant
Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue
(2011)

Thriller Live

Dedicated to the man himself, Thriller Live is a celebration of Michael Jackson's outstanding career spanning four decades and numerous industry awards. With a talented cast of over thirty and a live band of six, this tribute to the King of Pop celebrates its 1000th show at the Lyric Theatre in London's West End.

Commonly known as Jukebox musicals, shows crafted from famous musicians' back catalogues are currently filling the stages of both Broadway and the West End. The latest addition to this sub-genre Million Dollar Quartet is enjoying packed houses nightly, with Rock of Ages soon to fill the Shaftesbury Theatre and the much anticipated Spice Girls' Viva Forever planned to take the stage sometime next year. Unlike shows such as We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia!, Thriller Live dispenses with dramatic narrative and focuses entirely on Jackson's music which means audiences can immerse themselves in the melodies without having to worry about characters or plot and songs appearing shoe-horned in.

Thriller Live manages to pack in over 40 Jackson classics from 'ABC' to 'Heal the World' in a little over two hours without drawing for breath. In many ways it is a slickly staged Jackson concert, and even though he is not present, his spirit most certainly lives on. Interspersed with the many musical numbers come graphics charting his history and narration informing the audience of his journey to music superstardom.

Four talented singers provide the majority of vocals and belt out their numbers with great passion and commitment. But whilst Britt Quentin wins the competition for Jackson look-a-like, Alex Buchanan most certainly wins on the sound-a-like front. Trenyce Cobbins adds some raunchy glamour to proceedings as the only female vocalist and John Moabi does each of his idol's hits proud.

Choreographer Gary Lloyd has created a gruelling work-out routine for his bevy of dancers as they body pop the night away. Some numbers are a pure replication of Jackson's music videos, whereas others construct a short narrative from the lyrics. However, considering the show's title it does seem rather odd that 1983 hit 'Thriller' is void of zombies. Having gone down in history as one of the greatest and most influential music videos ever made, this important episode from Jackson's career feels sorely missed in such a celebratory show as the ensemble dance and sing their way through the number dressed in hip-hop streetwear. Audiences do not get to see 'Thriller' live as the show's title suggests.

But this did not deter the crowd who whoop, cheer and sing their way through the evening. The term audience implies passivity and this is most certainly not the case here. 'Get up on your feet' and 'Put your hands together' must be the most oft recited phrases of the evening and the audience willingly oblige whenever the opportunity arises. The atmosphere is truly electric as the audience try, but miserably fail, to match the dancers' high octane performance.

No other musical in the West End demands so much of its dance ensemble. Never offstage, they possess great stamina and deliver every number with unabated energy and vitality in this hip thrusting, crotch grabbing, body grinding, high kicking, back flipping dance extravaganza.

Jackson may be dead, but Thriller Live ensures his legacy lives on.

"Thriller Live" is currently booking until 22nd January 2012

Ben Aitken reviewed the premiere in 2009

Reviewer: Simon Sladen