Director: Gary Lloyd
Reviewer: Grace Patrick
Gary Lloyd’sThriller Live is an exuberant celebration of the career and life of Michael Jackson: As we’re told several times during the show, nobody else either before or since has reached the heights of his stardom and international renown.
One element of this that really hit home is the successful effort to move past the image of Jackson that was pushed by the press, especially during the latter years of his life. The man celebrated on stage was a philanthropist and activist, dedicated to bettering the world that he found himself in. Perhaps neither image is totally fair, but it’s more than important that we recognise and explore both sides when trying to look back on a life that was something more than extraordinary.
In the momentary bouts of narration, which feel largely superfluous given that this is clearly a tribute of sorts first and a story second, we’re reminded of the dizzying heights that Jackson reached, but also of the good that he tried to do from up there. These moments do give the piece some body, but unfortunately also appear more than a little out of place, because the storytelling really is minimal. In Thriller Live, the music and choreography are doing the vast majority of the work.
The ensemble are stunning by all accounts- their energy is never failing, to the extent that they never seemed to be still. On the other hand, the stage never feels overcrowded or chaotic. Instead, the ensemble drives the piece forward while keeping focus where it should be.
It’s very hard to ignore the fact, that, despite being right in the middle of Shaftesbury Avenue, rubbing shoulders with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Les Miserables, this really can’t be counted as a musical. It’s a celebration and it’s filled with a poignant sort of joy, but it would have to be counted as something much closer to a tribute show. While it does follow a thread through the different eras of Jackson’s career to some extent, it doesn’t build any kind of real narrative. Although this isn’t necessarily a criticism, it is challenging to overlook.
The use of recorded footage as a fully integrated part of Jonathan Park’s set is an interesting choice, and one that works well in the moments when Thrillerdecides that it is, in fact, a tribute show. At these times, something of the epic scale arena tours that defined Jackson’s career is captured, in some of its real rapture and power. The rest of the time, it feels a little underutilised, which is a shame given its obvious potential and moments of wonder.
Perhaps most importantly or most tellingly, the audience loved it. It drew a far more diverse crowd than many West End theatres, and the cast could do no wrong in their eyes. If people enjoy it and come together through it, then maybe that’s what counts.
Booking to 7 April 2019 | Image: Betty Zapata