Thursday, 22 January 2009

Thriller Live - Lyric Theatre, London

Thriller Live
Direction/Choreography: Gary Lloyd
Musical Supervisor and Head Arranger: John Maher
Reviewer: Honour Bayes

Thriller is definitely a show with, well, thrills. It’s also a slightly uncomfortable cross between a fan convention and posthumous tribute concert, but with songs as good as Jackson’s does one care? The answer is sadly yes, this is a show which tries far too hard and in doing so distances itself from its star; one of the most naturally gifted, if also incredibly confused, performers of the 20th Century.

Facts and numbers are thrown out at us as we hurtle from the infectious pop of The Jackson 5 (the group set a chart record when its first four singles peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100) through Michael Jackson’s emergence as smooth disco king and finally to his leathered 80’s hey day with Thriller (37 weeks at number one in the album chart) and Bad (sold 30 million copies worldwide).

Dance number after dance number is presented and we are shown an array of Michaels from the deeply impressive Kieran Alleyne to Denise Pearson, Roger Wright, John Moabi and Ben Foster, all of which seems to scream that Michael Jackson belongs to all colours, ages and even sexes. Of these performances Pearson’s (a former member of Five Star, the UK version of Jackson 5) is the closest to him, bringing a precision and focus to both the vocal pieces and dance numbers which has some of the star quality of Jackson himself. She is the only adult who combines both the impressive talent for dancing and singing that he excelled at and yet even she is no way close, prompting one to feel like this show is a poor man’s substitute for the real thing. A good word must also be said for Alleyne whose performance is astonishing. He holds the stage with much more presence than most of the other performers and all this in someone who can’t be older than 14; maybe we’ve glimpsed some genuine star after all.

Alongside this post-modern view of Jackson, there is also some straight down the line impersonation in the form of Ricko Baird. But even though Baird says he has worked with Jackson personally (a clever way to heighten the connection between the two) the imitation lacks the unity of Jackson’s talent. During the performance of Thriller, Baird dances impressively and wows the crowd with the moonwalk, however he is accompanied by a pre-recorded vocal to which he mimes, not always successfully; it takes two of these performers to do what Jackson did solo and suddenly this seems a bit cheap. No one can be the great man, but they could have taken some of his class.

Gary Lloyd’s direction and choreography is tight and the dancers are energetic and they certainly don’t lack in conviction, bombarding the audience with a zealousness that would make Disney proud. Overall however the look of the show lacks this conglomerates’ finesse, the PowerPoint esq projections and restricted costume changes again highlighting the overarching b-movie feel to this show.

But for all this the quality of Jackson’s music does come through and the hand clapping toe tapping numbers will, at points, permeate through anyone’s cynicism to the 80’s child beneath. Song after song is recognised and sung along to and it succeeds in making one realise that Jackson, for all his recent confusing and slightly disturbing exploits, is truly an artist who has entered the 20th Century Zeitgeist, as only really the Beatles have done before him. An extraordinary musician and entertainer, it is just shame that this tribute to him, whilst being painfully well meaning, is so far off his effortless mark.

Thriller Live is booking at the Lyric Theatre until the 12th April 2009
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