Director and Choreographer: Gary Lloyd
Reviewer: Chris Oldham
Michael Jackson never did anything by halves. His live shows were full of pyrotechnics, special effects and groundbreaking dance moves that had the world enthralled. As tribute shows go then, the bar for Thriller Live couldn’t really have been set any higher.
The most immediate indication that the production might not quite live up to expectation is the simple stage sitting in full view of the audience as they file in. There is no grand reveal, no curtain-up, lights off, spotlight on moment. Instead the four vocalists who are to be our guides through Jackson’s musical back-catalogue file onto stage in front of flashing screens displaying basic, colourful graphics. There follows a rather uneasy, lacklustre opening for few minutes in which they make their way through some of the Jackson 5’s greatest hits while the troupe of 10 dancers seem to ease into it behind them. The energy only begins to rise when the crowd are encouraged to their feet for some good old-fashioned call and response audience participation.
Jackson’s songs and music videos are so full of theatricality that any kind of narrative for a show of this kind is unnecessary, and yet there’s a jarring lack of cohesion to it all. Some numbers feature no dancing whatsoever, as if everyone’s backstage getting changed and leaving the singers to it. Then, suddenly, we’re hit with huge dramatic set pieces like Dangerous, in which vocalist and featured dancer Sean Christopher leads the male dancers in a pitch-perfect routine that has you chomping at the bit for more. It’s in these moments that the show soars.
Thankfully the second act manages to vanquish the awkwardness of its predecessor, throwing drama, energy and passion at the delighted crowd from every angle, with The Way You Make Me Feel, Smooth Criminal, They Don’t Care About Us and Earth Song all nearly blowing the roof off. By the time Thriller and Bad roll around, with the audience on their feet, it’s like you’re watching a completely different show to an hour previous.
The joy here, of course, is in the music, delivered flawlessly by a band hidden behind the stage and only set free when wailing guitar solos are called for. Despite the fact that the wavering sound levels sometimes swallow up the vocals completely, singers Angelica Allen and Rory Taylor shine brightest, Taylor in particular in a raw, gut-busting rendition of Dirty Diana.
Christopher’s polished dance moves and inflections conjure up the spirit of Jackson beautifully. In fact, when he’s on stage everyone raises their game to such an extent that it’s a shame that he doesn’t make more of an appearance throughout. The dancers meanwhile combine acrobatics and skill, if at times lacking the precision and punch that Jackson himself perhaps would have insisted upon.
There are times when Thriller Live threatens to be a blistering homage to Jackson and his life’s work. But an uneven pace, fluctuating energy levels and disappointing graphics leave this tribute show needing just a little more sheen.
Runs until 20 February 2016 | Image: Contributed