Okay, by my reckoning I’m about four blog posts behind in terms of theatre and/or drama CDs, so I’d better crack on…
Thanks to Kevin Wilson PR, I was invited to the celebratory 1,000th performance of Thriller Live at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. I’ve never been before, and now having seen it, it solidifies my reasons why: it’s not a theatre show, but a series of tribute acts. Not my thing at all.
And yet, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself.
The show takes a chronological look at the recording career of Michael Jackson, from his early days with the Jackson Five, through the group’s domination of disco as the Jacksons, to the solo albums which broke record after record as they sold in their millions.
A number of different artists take the lead vocals throughout. Vocally, I found Alex Buchanan – one of the few white artists in a show which, refreshingly, has scope for black performers to shine on a West End stage – to be the strongest vocally, especially in terms of sounding like Jackson himself. Unfortunately, one of his strongest solo numbers, She’s Out Of My Life, suffered from some very odd direction that saw it performed with his back to the audience and/or with Buchanan singing to his shoes.
The first act concentrates Jackson’s time performing with his brothers, along with the occasional solo number, and thus is chock full of Motown and disco numbers, which lead in nicely to numbers from Off the Wall. It’s a great first act, let down only by an audience participation routine in Shake Your Body Down which reduces the whole event to pantomime proportions. For the 1,000th performance, we were also treated to a guest performance by former Britain’s Got Talent contestant Shaheen Jafargholi which, sadly, was quite the most underwhelming of the evening.
The second act starts with performances from the Thriller album – save for the two best known and most successful songs, which are saved for the finale and encores, of which more later – before moving on to Bad and Dangerous. Unfortunately, the chronological structure works against it here, as post-Bad, Jackson’s songs tended to recycle so many musical themes and dance moves, capitalising on past glories rather than the innovations which previously drove his popularity.
And speaking of dance moves, while Gary Lloyd’s choreography is great fun throughout, the second act is dominated by songs where Jackson’s original choreography is as well-known as the music. A tribute show can only go so far in recreating those iconic moves, so no matter how hard-working the cast are, there’s a twinge of disappointment throughout.
Again for the 1,000th performance, the second act had a unique guest appearance – this time, from recently reformed boy band Blue. I’ve never really warmed to them as performers, but seeing them live for the first time, I can quite understand why others do. Despite the fact that they were so obviously unfamiliar with Jackson’s work that they had to have their solo lines written on the palms of their hands as aides memoires.
By the time the cast come to take their bows, there are two numbers notably missing from the race through Jackson’s catalogue – Thriller and Billie Jean. They are both performed with aplomb, although for all the costume changes throughout the show, it was disappointing that the best that could be achieved to recreate Thriller’s iconic zombies was some green lighting.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, though, it transpired that the show had several more ‘encore’ numbers ready – Bad, Black or White, Smooth Criminal (complete with heavily set-up “lean” move that would have been more impressive if they hadn’t had to blackout part of the stage to set it up) and another reprise of Thriller. This extended closure of the show took the pall off what was otherwise a fun tribute show.
Thanks to Kevin Wilson PR, I…