There is a part of me that wonders whether Thriller Live would still be going strong if Michael Jackson had lived on rather than passing away about seven months after the show’s opening night. The question is entirely academic and the answer almost obvious – it has enjoyed considerable box office success despite retaining what looks like a shoestring budget set, with shoestring budget projections and multimedia to match. Until now.
There has been a definite step up from the piecemeal special effects that used to make the show seem cheap, as though the singing and choreography was supposed to make up for technological deficiency. Previously, this show was a determined attempt to recreate a Michael Jackson concert, but never quite had the wizardry to match: thus it was almost terrifyingly bland, no matter how strongly the cast strutted their stuff.
It works both ways, of course, and no amount of lighting, illusions and cinematography is ever going to completely cover up for a substandard performance. This cast is, however, more than capable of achieving impressive feats. The last twenty minutes or so of both acts are fully charged with the very best of Jackson’s back catalogue. Amongst the dancers Daniel Bradford stood out the most – every so often, there was that extra backflip, that extra jump, and at one point that extra handstand with just one hand on the floor. The whole contingent of dancers is, I hasten to add, a delight to watch. It’s worth going for the dancing alone, even if you are not a follower of Jackson’s music.
Of the many singers, Alex Buchanan held the audience’s attention most strongly, together with Eshan Gopal – the latter playing a young (that is, prepubescent) Michael Jackson, and thus treating us to ‘ABC’ and similar hits from the Jackson 5 era. The programme asserts Buchanan has “no formal training in any area of performance” – this is hardly evident in his delivery and stage presence. He does not bear even the slightest resemblance to Michael Jackson, but no matter (it don’t [sic] matter if you’re black or white, y’see). He effortlessly handles both ballads and anthems with passion and flair. Gopal, too, has a bright future ahead of him: although even the strongest child actors are never guaranteed success in adulthood, there is no denying that this rising star has the confidence and natural ability to wow a West End audience, and I see no reason why this could not continue in years to come.
It is good to see the video backdrops and special effects run consistently throughout the evening. In its earlier format, certain numbers had little, if any, accompanying images, videos or animation, which almost gave the impression that those songs shouldn’t be given as much attention by the audience as the songs that did have proper backdrops and projections. Now, all the tunes are, as far as the multimedia is concerned, brought up to the same standard, and it is now left to the audience to select their favourites for themselves.
The show has not, therefore, completely dispensed with all of the multimedia. Regular visitors to Thriller Live will recognise what has been retained (I will resist going into further detail on this point), and will also be thrilled (if I may use that word) to find out that the show has not only added extra multimedia but extra songs, lengthening the performance time somewhat: there is, as it were, more bang for your buck, or otherwise it doesn’t stop until you’ve had more than enough, dependent on your point of view.
There is not much of a plot at all – I can give it away in five words: Michael Jackson sold many records. In any event, so many details of Jackson’s life have been disputed that perhaps it is best to remain silent on such matters and concentrate on the music. Thriller Live has always done what it could to showcase some marvellous music, albeit from a controversial figure. The new projections and multimedia are seamless and work fantastically well, and are a welcome complement to some extraordinary singing and dancing.
Review by Chris Omaweng
There are major changes to the long-running record-breaking West End concert spectacular, Thriller Live, with new videos and special FX. A thrilling new opening to the show has been created and four new Michael Jackson songs added – Who’s Loving You, Rockin’ Robin, Remember The Time and Human Nature.
“This is a really, really exciting time,” said Gary Lloyd, Thriller Live’s award-winning director and choreographer. “Unlike all other West End musicals, Thriller Live’s music, choreography and costumes have been changed several times, but over the next few months we will be making a host of changes at once. We are introducing lots of new production elements, new video film sequences and some rather special visual effects to ensure the show looks stunning and to keep it up to date. When Thriller Live first opened in the West End at the Lyric Theatre in January 2009, it was definitely cutting edge. We have since refreshed the show several times but now it is getting enhanced production values to ensure our show is really eye-popping! Michael Jackson always put on thrilling live arena shows when he toured the world. He used magic and stage illusion and the latest technology to surprise his fans. The challenge to Thriller Live’s creative team is to try and recreate and capture that sense of groundbreaking dancing, singing and stage magic in a traditional theatre. Six months into our record-breaking 7-year run in the West End we aim to once again set the bar high in terms of what a West End audience will see, hear and experience.”
29 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 7ES
Evenings: Tuesday to Friday and Sunday 7.30pm and Saturday 8.00pm
Matinees: Saturday 4.00pm and Sunday 3.30pm
Age Restrictions: Suitable for ages 8 and over.
Important Info: Contains constant use of flashing LED screen and some strobe lighting.