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Thriller Live!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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It’s not a show, or a musical, it’s a concert. But as a concert it’s very good theatre, a total blast in fact, and a salutary reminder that Michael Jackson’s music is an important segment in the sequence from blues, jazz and Motown to rap and disco. It’s the history of modern pop music, and it’s the music the modern musical theatre forgot about.

Thriller Live comes with an almost repulsive set of recommendations in the programme from its own producers – “ a wonderful man who has inspired me,” that sort of horse manure – and of course there is no mention of Jackson’s facelifts, weird obsession with Elizabeth Taylor, nor his strange home-based kindergarten that led to a series of court cases.

But the man’s talent is the point, and there’s not a song that you don’t want to bask in as they roll off the stage in this wonderful show, covering all the great Jackson albums and ending with "Thriller", which spent thirty-seven weeks at the top of the charts and defined an era of social body-popping for those times.

Call me cheap, or call me common (I’ve been called a lot worse, including a taxi), but I much prefer this sort of honest up-and-at-you musical celebration of great pop and blues/rock music to the narcissistic indulgence of something like the current revival of Oliver! Every song here is better than, or at least as good as, anything Lionel Bart ever wrote, and Gary Lloyd’s production frames them all in a nimbus of notable nostalgia.

There is a narrative thread to the first half, in the emergence of the Jackson Five, hot-gospelling and hand-jiving their way to prominence, and the second half sags into some awful soft-centred political knee-jerk stuff about the legacy of JFK, Nelson Mandela and now Barack Obama. But the staging of the musical numbers, vivid light show and constant brilliance of the musical playing in John Maher’s band keep us riveted.

The star of the show is little Kieran Alleyne as the young Jackson, and he is superbly supported by the absolutely wonderful Denise Pearson – lead vocalist of Five Star; who the hell were they? – who seems to morph into Michael in her soprano moments, the bulky and skilful tenor Roger Wright and the excellent trio of Ricko Baird as the ultimate titfer-tipping, slide-walking Jacko, and Ben Foster and John Moabi as his ideal interpreters.

-Michael Coveney


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