Melissa Blease reviews Thriller Live, on at Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday 2 December
In 2009, at just 50 years old, Michael Jackson died, triggering a global outpouring of grief. The uniquely gifted, peculiarly eccentric, ethereally enigmatic King of Pop shuffled off this mortal coil on the eve of a series of ‘comeback’ concerts (although he’d never really been away) at London’s O2 Arena, around six months after the Thriller Live tribute show opened in the West End.
If the O2 gigs and the world tour that doubtless would have followed had gone ahead, Thriller Live may not have turned into the record-breaking hit it’s become; having – inevitably, perhaps – been appropriated as the immediate focus for Jackson fans following his death. The show has since delivered more than 5,000 performances to four million fans in 30 countries, broken records for being the longest-running show in the Lyric Theatre’s 125-year history, and has just entered the longest-running musical in the West End charts at number 16.
In a similar fashion to how the plots of Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You don’t actually have anything to do with the story of the people who provided the soundtracks, Thriller Live isn’t strictly a biography of Jackson’s life – there’s not a single reference to his well-documented ‘troubles’, for example, nor any kind of analysis of how a life spent in the spotlight (he gave his first public performance on the Ed Sullivan Show at just five years old) can affect a person.
But then again, if you want the down’n’dirty details, there’s plenty of that to be found in TV documentaries and online. So, having neatly camouflaged the warts and all beneath some properly fabulous on-stage action, the show carries us along for the ride on Jackson’s musical journey, delivering an upbeat celebration of all the good stuff that came from his 45 year career.
It’s a non-stop jukebox of both Jackson 5 and Jackson’s solo greatest hits, accompanied by a live band and featuring all the star’s innovative dance moves. The entire show is put together with competent finesse, authority and affection; it’s slick, uplifting and distinctly non-challenging, impressively choreographed and led by startlingly impressive vocalists and performers, most notably the show’s Resident Director and lead vocalist Britt Quentin (who bears an uncanny resemblance to The Great Man himself), songbirds Ina Seidon and Adriana Louise, and the silky-voiced Rory Taylor.
You don’t have to be a Jackson fan to enjoy Thriller Live; it holds as much appeal for fans of musical theatre spectaculars, or those who simply fancy a fun night out, as it does for those who want to show off their Moonwalking skills. Even the most reserved ticket holders couldn’t fail to sing along – even if a little self-consciously – to their favourite party-on hits… and of course, all those hits are here, from ABC to We Are The World by way of Blame It On The Boogie, Billie Jean, I Want You Back, Bad and the rest.
Don’t stop ’til you get enough? Thriller Live doesn’t drop the upbeat pace for a single second – the only complaint Jackson’s more committed fans will have had is that the music, dancing and fun stopped before, in the words of one of his very greatest his, they’d had enough.
Whether you count yourself among his millions of fans or not, the undisputed King of Pop lives on.