Neither shoe-horning the hits of Michael Jackson around a flimsy storyline, nor taking his life story as narrative thread (it wisely avoids miring itself in the unpalatable controversy of Jackson’s later life), Thriller Live eschews the usual jukebox musical format, instead, it presents a roughly chronological, concert-style tribute production to the self-proclaimed ‘King of Pop’.
The recently revamped opening medley doesn’t quite get the crowd going from the offset and the production takes some time to find its feet. The limp linking monologues with proclamations of Jackson’s greatness serving only to add to the running time rather than add any colour. However, it soon hits its stride and from the early days of the Jackson Five, through over 30 other songs, the hits keep on coming at an astonishing rate and an ever more astonishing decibel level.
Taking the idea that Jackson transcended age, race and gender, the songs are delivered by a quartet of lead vocalists: Angelica Allen, Adam J Bernard, Shaquille Hemmans and Rory Taylor. The quartet varies in their ability to deliver the mega-hits. There are some quite frankly shocking renditions: a mauling of the classics Man in the Mirror and Human Nature and a barely audible Never Can Say Goodbye, render these pop standards unrecognisable. Only Taylor survives unscathed and his strong rock vocals stand head and shoulders above his fellow cast members. However, much of the singers’ troubles can be blamed squarely on the imbalance between the vocal sound level and that of the on-stage live band who drown out the performers throughout.
The staging is simple (read for that cheap looking) with out-dated pixellated LED screens providing some background colour to the proceedings. The costumes vary from authentic Jackson to technicolour eye-popping lycra. There’s even an Egyptian-clad Remember the Time that makes you feel as if you have stumbled upon a production of Aida and when the words hunger, conflict and racism appear on the LED screens and pictures of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, John F Kennedy, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela flash past, there’s the dread that we are about to travel down the path of sanctifying Jackson, but it laudably manages to stay on the right side of tasteful.
The choreography, while energetically executed throughout and incorporating Jackson’s signature moves, (every Moonwalk is accompanied by shrieks of delight) is somewhat repetitive and lacks originality in an age when top quality dance acts grace our TV screens on a weekly basis.
That said, the audience (some in costume) in the packed auditorium, was appreciative throughout and multiple ovations followed the biggest of the hits.
For the most part, Thriller Live provides a fitting tribute to Jackson and preserves the legacy of his music. It is undoubtedly a crowd-pleasing memorial for his fans but one can’t help feeling that for a man who was renowned for his ground-breaking originality, it could be so much more than a poorly executed conveyor belt of his biggest hits.
Runs until Saturday 23 April 2016 | Image: Contributed
This review was originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub here