Lyric Theatre, London – until 14 November 2015
Marking seven years in the West End (along with an eye-watering global box office take of £150million) Thriller Live continues at the Lyric after a magnificent makeover.
At its heart the show is still the same juke-box musical, chock full of hits. But there’s no fictional fairy-tale woven around the songs of Michael Jackson here and nor does the show pretend to be a (potentially tedious) biopic. Thriller Live remains a simple yet lavish, tribute to the music, the styles and the dance that Jackson created, excellently performed.
A re-worked opening sequence hints at some of Jackson’s greatest hits before the ever-sensational Eshan Gopal, almost dwarfed by his super-sized afro wig, bounds on to the stage to take the show through the early Jackson 5 days. Young yes, but Gopal’s an old-hand in the show and his confidence is matched only by his ability, smashing ABC with flawless vocals and movement.
The essence of Thriller Live is not in having one actor play Jackson. In place of an overly structured, scripted piece, 5 leading performers dip in and out of the “Jackson” role, suggesting the style and the voice of the man and at all times performing as an inspired tribute rather than a tacky replica. The staging is enhanced by ingenious electronic imagery, with LED panels so subtly configured that real life-silhouettes can barely be discerned from Colin Rozee’s animations.
Of this Jackson five, Alex Buchanan’s vocals are divine – never bettered than in a finely worked She’s Out Of My Life. Reflecting Jackson’s complicated and sometimes androgynous persona, Trenyce Cobbins, the sole female lead, offers a take on the performer’s presence that is as distinctive as it is assured. It is the immaculately manicured Dajiow however who captures the essence of Jackson at the height of his fame, sporting a look and poise that even at the show’s after-party made one do a double take. When Dajiow moonwalks it could be Michael.
The secret of the show’s success, aside from Jackson’s platinum-plated back catalogue, has to lie with director / choreographer Gary Lloyd who has stayed with the production from the outset. Jackson wrote the songs, but it is Lloyd’s vision that has translated concepts first revealed either in Jackson’s sensational videos or stadia performances and scaled them down to fit a West End stage, whilst retaining the creative essence of Jackson’s magic.
Aside from the precision Lloyd has drilled into his company whether the routine be body-popping, breakdancing, moonwalking, or zombies boogying, the dance maestro focuses at all times on an unpretentious flair that captures Jackson’s style and yet avoids mimicry.
From a strikingly 70s Rockin’ Robin routine – all flared red and white costumes with the dancers moving seamlessly on heels that would give most people vertigo, through to a psychedelic angle to Can You Feel It, Lloyd’s vision is inspired throughout. The show’s title number is reserved to (almost) the very end – with Dajiow wearing the red leather jacket from John Landis’ legendary video and Lloyd conceiving a routine that with a dozen or so dancers pays homage to Landis’ spectacular work, filmed with a far larger cast some 30+ years back.
Thriller Live offers no plot other than a glimpse of the dazzling arc that Michael Jackson’s work created. Sensational songs, stunningly performed!
Booking until mid-2016