Former X Factor finalist Maria Lawson has joined the cast of Michael Jackson tribute show Thriller Live, which has extended its run at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue by another four months.

Following a 2006 one-night West End tryout at the Dominion Theatre and extensive touring, Thriller Live opened on 21 January (previews from 2 January) at the Lyric, where it’s now booking until 3 January 2010 (See Review Round-up, 28 Jan 2009).

Rejected by Simon Cowell at The X Factor “bootcamp” rounds in 2004, Maria Lawson (pictured) returned to reality TV competition in 2005, singing Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel” in one of the early rounds, and went on to become a favourite to win under mentor Sharon Osbourne. Osbourne claimed Lawson was a victim of the ‘Irish Mafia’, referring to Irish judge Louis Walsh's decision to vote her off in favour of Irish act The Conway Sisters. This caused a media uproar and Walsh threatened to quit the show after days of negative press. She subsequently signed to Sony BMG and released her self-titled debut album last year. Her second album, Emotional Rollercoaster, is due out later this year.

Billed as a concert celebration, Thriller Live includes Michael Jackson and Jackson 5 chart-toppers such as “I Want You Back”, “I’ll Be There”, “Earth Song”, “Blame It on the Boogie”, “Billie Jean”, “Beat It” and, of course, the title song, “Thriller” from best-selling albums including Off The Wall, Thriller, Bad, Dangerous and HIStory.

Thriller Live is directed by Gary Lloyd and written by Adrian Grant, with design by Jonathan Park. The cast is led by three 13-year olds who rotate in the role of Young Michael.


In other musical extension news, at the Lyceum Theatre, The Lion King had added two months to its schedule and is taking bookings up to 28 March 2010. The Disney screen-to-stage adaptation opened on 19 October 1999 (previews from 24 September). The current company features Shaun Escoffery (as Mufasa).

Based on Disney's 1994 animated feature film, the stage adaptation opened first on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre in November 1997. The original Broadway creative team, led by director and designer Julie Taymor, reunited for the London production, with choreography by Garth Fagan, costumes by Taymor, puppetry and masks by Taymor and Michael Curry and set design by Richard Hudson.

The Lion King features 15 songs, including the five from the film. Unlike the screen version, however, African sounds and rhythms are fused on stage with Western popular music to create the musical's distinctive sound. The stage score comprises three new songs written by Elton John and Tim Rice, with additional numbers by South African-born Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Hans Zimmer and Julie Taymor. The book is by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi.

- by Terri Paddock