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Thriller Live – Darlington Civic Theatre

Director &Choreographer: Gary Lloyd

Reviewer: Mark Clegg

Despite the public controversy and criticism that surrounded both his personal life and his untimely death, it’s probably safe to say that nobody can deny that Michael Jackson was a massive talent. Often cited as “the greatest performer of all time”, such hyperbole would seem silly if it didn’t cause one to at least a pause for thought. Thriller Live is essentially a tribute show to Jackson’s songbook and the fact that it has been around for almost a decade suggests that it hits all the right notes. Which it does, with varying levels of success…

Primarily, the songs of Michael Jackson offer a rich and varied mixture of hits and lesser known tracks. The show gets this mix just about right although as with many shows of this sort, most of the best tunes are kept to the end of act two meaning a rather laboured first half (Filler Live anyone?). Some of the weaker songs are not helped by choreography and staging that often tries to ape the matching music video – Remember the Time’s Egyptian theme falls completely flat, Thriller itself suffers from never being able to live up to the video, and a string of Jackson’s melodramatic ‘message songs’ (They Don’t Care About Us, Earth Song etc.) are staged and performed in a laughably heavy handed manner. Meanwhile, the accompanying LCD screens, pyrotechnics and moving lights while all impressive do often drag the show down to the level of a particularly bombastic episode of The X Factor.

But when Thriller Live is good, it’s thrilling, and almost all of the highlights in the show have something in common – Sean Christopher. While all of the performers are good, Christopher is the only one to ‘play’ Michael Jackson and whenever he is onstage, he is Jackson. His eyes almost constantly shaded by a wide-brimmed hat and strands of long black hair, Christopher’s performance is not so much an impersonation as him channelling Jackson, and the results are spellbinding. Frustratingly, there are long spells of the show when Christopher does not appear, but when he does, your eyes are on nobody but him. Show-stopping renditions of Dangerous, Smooth Criminal, Billie Jean and Beat It give the audience a taste of what it must have been like to witness the man himself in action.

Elsewhere, Thriller Live doesn’t really raise itself above every other tribute / jukebox show. The rest of the principle singers (Shaquille Hemmans, Cleopatra Higgins, Michael Kavuma and Rory Taylor) are very strong but are given little to allow them personalities (bridging chat is very sparse) and the supporting troupe of ten dancers are talented and energetic, if not 100% in synch with one another. The band are superb and the sound balance perfect.

By the end of the evening, even casual fans of Jackson will be having a wonderful time and will probably come away with the urge to re-listen to his greatest hits CD, and although the show is not bad, it isn’t particularly Bad either.

Runs until 5 March 2016 | Image: Contributed

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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