There’s always a moment’s apprehension when you hear that a director is planning to tweak his stage show. When you’re talking about Thriller Live – how can you improve on excellence?
Gary Lloyd would have got on great with Michael Jackson. Both men obsessive about the music and choreography. Nothing goes public until it is honed to perfection.
But any changes Lloyd has made to Thriller Live are – phew! – nothing to frighten off fans.
The UK tour is playing Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre this week and MJ’s loyal following have been, as always, enthusiastic in their applause.
Rightly so. Thriller Live is the ultimate tribute show and Lloyd has set the bar incredibly high.
It is a world leader in how to get it right. If you’re going to put on a production lauding the King of Pop then there’s no room for second-best.
The impressive thing about Thriller Live is that the show you see in Aylesbury, Adelaide, Argentina or Arkansas, is of the same superb high quality of its relatives packing in audiences to Broadway and the West End – and that’s not the case with 99 per cent of productions of any sort that leave their comfort zones of London or New York.
The “improvements” are nothing more than smoke and mirrors – or should I say, video projections, virtual glitter ball and pyrotechnics.
The videos have been improved and there’s a stunning lights display – but at its heart is still the music and dance routines of the world’s greatest performer.
The introduction is now a bit rushed, muddled and space age, like they’re trying to cram too much in to the opening number – History.
It’s followed by a surprise choice of song, Who’s Loving You, which was never a hit in the UK and makes for an understated opener.
Personally, I used to enjoy seeing the “Jackson Five” complete with awful Afros and garish costumes, that launched the show and then took us, chronologically through MJ’s career.
The cute little “Michael Jackson” won everyone’s hearts and came from a special MJ school set up to foster the talent of rising young stars.
I can understand the need to keep the show fresh but I don’t think the weak Who’s Loving You is it (but what do I know?).
There are a selection of singers – the immensely talented Cleopatra Higgins, a pocket whirlwind with explosive hair and a fondness for lycra and sequins – plus Shaquille Maerice Hemmans, Michael Kavuma and Rory Taylor – who perform all the hits and MC the night.
They’re backed by an incredibly lithe set of dancers. The girls are awesome – their Rockin’ Robin routine paid its own tribute to Top of the Pops’ Pan’s People.
But Jackson choreographed his greatest hits to be danced by his boys.
Chad Wilder, Gianni Arancio, Andrew Lyle Pinnock, Ryan Josiah, and the supremely athletic Peter Cleverley are perfect in hammering out the drills for Smooth Criminal and backing the show’s “Michael Jackson” (last night, Eddy Lima) for the iconic dances.
Lima showed his finesse in Dangerous. His impression of the entertainer is almost perfect – until he takes his hat off and you realise he looks nothing like Jackson. But as a dancer, he had all the right moves.
It’s eerie to watch. Dressed in white suit and red silk shirt he frequently hitches the trousers, tips the hat, grabs his crotch and flips the jacket. All mannerisms present and correct, all steps flawless.
Taylor’s version of Beat It brought goosebumps while Dirty Diana is as sexy and raunchy as ever.
It shows the quality of Jackson’s back catalogue that a production called Thriller doesn’t finale with his most theatrical performance.
After an electrifying Thriller there’s still time for Bad, Black or White and a reprise of my favourite, Smooth Criminal.
I can’t offer any criticism. It’s a show that welcomes back fans again and again. More than 30 hit songs performed to perfection – just as MJ would have wanted. What better tribute?
Thriller Live plays at The Waterside Theatre until Saturday before continuing its UK tour.
Explosive and electrifying. Thriller Live never fails to excite as a talented cast bring the songs of Michael Jackson to the stage in a flawless production.