MusicalNorth WestReview

Thriller Live- Palace Theatre, Manchester

Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

Writer: Michael Jackson and others

Director/Choreographer: Gary Lloyd

Thriller Live was conceived as a celebration of Michael Jackson’s music rather than a biography back in 2009. As a result the recent allegations about Jackson’s sex life are not covered in what is a jukebox musical but hardly a straightforward one.

Director and choreographer Gary Lloyd ignores the golden rule of tribute shows that require they be as close as possible to the real thing. This may be due to the sheer number of songs in the show and the consequent need for rapid scene changes or that the original dance/ videos were too complex to replicate. It does, however, ensure that Thriller Live on occasion manages to confound expectations.

The featured vocalists do not attempt to copy Michael Jackson in any way other than vocally; one is a white male and another female. This makes for some interesting interpretation of the songs particularly Adriana Louise turning the tables and objectifying the male dancers during the sleazy The Way You Make Me Feel.

Although there is the occasional nod towards Jackson’s fondness for military-style clothes only Kieran Alleyne deliberately mimics his physical movements. With hat obscuring his face he stalks the stage like a slender spectre with spot-on impressions of Jackson’s astonishing dance moves.

There is only limited narration mainly gushing tributes to Jackson’s albums or wide-eyed recitations of his sales figures. This seems a wasted opportunity considering Jackson’s societal and cultural contributions –paving the way for other black performers by breaking into conservative media like MTV. The breath-taking originality of his dance moves such as the legendary Moonwalk is, strangely, not remarked upon.

The first act of Thriller Live goes by in a breathless rush. Songs are merged or reduced to partial versions not much better than a medley. It certainly offers value for money although many fans might prefer full or more faithful versions of the songs. The second act is more measured with complete versions, mainly of Jackson’s later songs, and close approximations of two of his most famous videos.

The atmosphere is all over the place; closer to a raucous party than a respectful tribute.  There is the sense of throwing ideas around and hoping they work. There is a ghastly attempt at an audience sing-along that is more pantomime than pop. Jackson’s choice of clothing was hardly subtle but the costumes look like they might have been rejected by Liberace or Elton John as being too garish. For some reason the dancers in Dirty Diana wear helmets like ancient Greek soldiers.

Gary Lloyd’s choreography shows the influence of Jackson’s famous videos- sharp dressed gangsters and their molls take to the floor for Smooth Criminal –but, in the main, are high energy sharply original routines. There is the occasional lapse with a dance to Rockin’ Robin that brings to mind the routines trotted out by Pan’s People on Top of the Pops. Determined not to disappoint the fans Lloyd concludes with faithful recreations of the famous dances for Billy Jean and Thriller.

Thriller Live is an oddity; rather than blandly recreating copies of Michael Jackson’s songs and routines it offers re-interpretations that capture the spirit of the originals in a more boisterous form. It becomes, therefore, a celebration instead of a dry tribute.

Runs until 15 February 2020

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. 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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