It was only in January that I sat in on the fifth anniversary celebrations of Thriller Live in London’s West End. Now here is the touring production at Aylesbury Waterside and it’s almost a completely different show.
But what hasn’t changed it the sheer energy and talent of a company who, perhaps inspired by Michael Jackson’s own perfectionism, deliver an electrifying show that fires on all cylinders.
Instead of having five MJs taking turns to sing the iconic playlist of songs that make up this ultimate tribute musical, the vocals have been almost entirely given over to new girl on the payroll Cleopatra Higgins.
Hang on, doesn’t she look familiar – and isn’t she the wrong sex to play Michael?
Even now Cleo looks barely looking old enough to vote. Back in the 1990s, while still seemingly in nappies, she fronted her own pop group (called Cleopatra) and, last year, was semi-finalist in BBC1’s The Voice.
And her powerful voice is just perfect to hit the high notes. Here she is smokin’ hot as lead vocalist, supported, when required, by Tyrone Lee, Lascel Wood and a rock dude with enviable hair – and ridiculously tight trousers – Jesse Smith.
The dancing Michael who gives audiences The Moonwalk, body popping, crotch-grabbing, jacket-flicking, plaster- wearing and Thriller-leading is Sean Christopher.
Thriller Live is very much an organic show and its format has evolved over the years (and, indeed, since January). That’s a good thing and one that other productions would be wise to consider.
What it means is that, for most of us, you can repeatedly book to see Thriller Live and not get bored with the same tired routines and performances. It’s a canny move by producers Flying Music.
Director Gary Lloyd’s stunning choreography holds the whole thing together with high octane moves that give theatre-goers the best iconic set pieces from Michael Jackson’s uniquely magnificent back catalogue.
The show goes through the Jackson Five’s early years and into disco (with Dangerous sandwiched in-between) and the audience is coerced out of their seats for the first – and not the last time – just 25 minutes into the show.
Act II really turns up the heat. As Jackson progressed through his remarkable career he created not only unbelievable music but also set pieces and video performances to accompany them.
Smooth Criminal sees “The Lean” appear all too briefly. There’s Beat It, Dirty Diana, Billy Jean and the slushy segment with Man In The Mirror, They Don’t Care About Us, and Heal The World.
And just when you can’t believe that Thriller Live is finishing without (arguably) the greatest of his hits (The clue is in the name of the show) then the packed house is treated to a lengthy, well-scripted encore.
The performances are universally good although Tyrone Lee was a little on the quiet side during Act I (I blame the mic or perhaps the volume of the band because he came back with a moving rendition of Man In The Mirror).
Jesse Smith, he of the lush hair, thrilled as much with the ballad She’s Out Of My Life as the lead in Dirty Diana.
And we could have watched Sean Christopher lead the dancers all night. There’s some serious dance talent in the company.
And let’s not forget the power behind the production. The superb band was hidden away behind a screen only to be occasionally let out. I’d like to have seen the guys afforded a space somewhere on-stage.
Was anything left out? Well, I was disappointed to see that they had jettisoned the vintage Jackson Five routine, complete with cute MJ, Afros and awful flares. The boys, who actually train at an MJ Academy, are a delight to watch.
But it is a minor niggle. This is about as good a tribute show as it is possible to produce. It’s impossible not to be royally entertained by The King Of Pop and a show he inspired.
I’m pretty sure Michael, who died five years ago, aged just 50, would have been delighted at this thriller of a show.
Playing at the Waterside today and tomorrow then continuing to tour.