Jacko's still alive on the West End with the bombastic Thriller - Live!, but this is less of a West End show and more of an extended tribute concert - there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it does beg the question of what makes a 'good' West End show.
In case the introduction didn't give it away, there's not really a plot to Thriller - Live! - it loosely follows the events of Michael Jackson's life (and his musical chronology), but carefully skirts any of the various controversies that dogged the troubled star, focusing instead on everything that made him great. This isn't necessarily an issue, as the show is meant as a celebration of his music over anything else, but there is a bit of an elephant in the room from the outset. If any show could have done with a West End plot shoehorned in (think We Will Rock You or Mamma Mia!), this is it!
However, as extended tribute concerts go, this is pretty impressive stuff - starting with the hits of the Jackson Five and working their way through a huge chunk of Michael Jackson's back catalogue, Thriller - Live! have put together quite a spectacle - with an army of dancers and singers, all of the classics are given the once-over, from up-beat crowd pleasers like "Billy Jean", "Smooth Criminal" and "Thriller" to the quieter and more introspective "She's Out of My Life" and "I Just Can't Stop Loving You". Every piece is impressively choreographed and sung, although the dancing is far better than the singing, which ranges from amazing to average depending on the performer.
But it's not really enough for a West End show to be a tribute act, even one as impressive as this - there's just not enough here to recommend it to anyone except die-hard Jackson fans, and that's a real shame. The show is obsessed with Jackson's successes, with projection screens proudly declaiming all of his achievements and awards throughout and the performers breaking up the songs with the kind of vainglorious biographical inserts that would make a Channel 5 documentary maker blush. I'm sure that, if you're a Jackson fan and want to forget all of the controversy, this is going to be heaven for you. If, however, you were hoping for something with a little more edge, you will be sorely disappointed.
The really sad thing about all of this is that everyone involved is really quite good. The dancing is unbelievably good in places: the final encores replicate the "Billy Jean" and "Thriller" music videos and look simply outstanding, and the show is full of iconic Jackson moments - the glove, the "Smooth Criminal" lean, the "Beat It" fighting on the streets... there are too many to name, and they are all imitated with much love and talent. But that's all they are - imitations.
I'd have loved to have seen a crazy writer try to smudge all of those moments into a cohesive plot - it almost wouldn't have mattered how dreadful the plot was, because it would have couched the adoration into something a little more palatable - but on its own, this is just a very impressive tribute.
Name of Show: Thriller - Live!
Music: Michael Jackson
Premiered: August 2006 (Dominion Theatre)
This Production Opened: 2 January 2009
Tweet: Despite being billed as a West End musical, this is more of a tribute concert/dance show to the late great Michael Jackson.
Synopsis: Thriller - Live! is a tribute concert to Michael Jackson, featuring his most famous songs with elaborate choreography, but that's about it - there's no plot or story-line beyond that, although there is a basic chronology of his life (avoiding all of the controversial areas).
- The iconic "Billy Jean" dance.
- The "Thriller" zombie dance.
Why See It: If you're a Jackson fan, this features all of your favourite Jackson songs and dances.
Caveat: There's no plot - it's really just a tribute concert, and the more controversial elements of Jackson's life are a palpable elephant in the room.
- The infamous 'lean' (which Jackson did in the video to "Smooth Criminal") started off as an acrobatic feat, but was eventually enhanced with a patent for locking a shoe to the floor!
Thriller - Live is a spectacular, high octane show celebrating the career of the world’s undisputed King of Pop – Michael Jackson, and the Jackson 5. To bring to life on stage the sensational dancing and distinctive sound of the Jackson’s greatest hits, Thriller - Live includes eye-popping multi-media effects and dazzling choreography by the shows award-winning director Gary Lloyd, plus additional choreography by 5 time MTV award-winning LaVelle Smith Jnr. In a career spanning 40 years, Michael Jackson has sold an unparalleled 750 million records worldwide with the Thriller album still the world’s best-selling recording of all time. Thriller - Live includes over two-hours of non-stop hit songs in a show that boasts the world-class spectacle that marked their legendary live performances. Expect your favourite Jackson songs delivered by an exceptionally talented cast and live band, including the smash hits: I Want You Back, I’ll Be There, Show You The Way To Go, Can You Feel It, Rock With You, She’s Out Of My Life, Beat It, Billie Jean, Earth Song and Thriller plus many more!
Lyric Theatre29 Shaftesbury Avenue
London Greater London United Kingdom W1D 7ES
Tuesday to Friday 7.30pm, Saturday 8pm, Sunday at 7.30pm, Saturday 4pm, Sunday 3.30pm
Duration: 2 hours 20 minutes
Thriller Live! © Thriller Live!