Jacko’s still alive on the West End with the bombastic Thriller – Live!, but this is less of a West End show and more of an extended tribute concert – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it does beg the question of what makes a ‘good’ show. At the Lyric Theatre.
In case the introduction didn’t give it away, there’s not really a plot to Thriller – Live! – it loosely follows the events of Michael Jackson’s life (and his musical chronology), but carefully skirts any of the various controversies that dogged the troubled star, focusing instead on everything that made him great. This isn’t necessarily an issue, as the show is meant as a celebration of his music over anything else, but there is a bit of an elephant in the room from the outset. If any show could have done with a West End plot shoehorned in (think We Will Rock You or Mamma Mia!), this is it!
However, as extended tribute concerts go, this is pretty impressive stuff – starting with the hits of the Jackson Five and working their way through a huge chunk of Michael Jackson’s back catalogue, Thriller – Live! have put together quite a spectacle – with an army of dancers and singers, all of the classics are given the once-over, from up-beat crowd pleasers like “Billy Jean”, “Smooth Criminal” and “Thriller” to the quieter and more introspective “She’s Out of My Life” and “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”. Every piece is impressively choreographed and sung, although the dancing is far better than the singing, which ranges from amazing to average depending on the performer.
But it’s not really enough for a West End show to be a tribute act, even one as impressive as this – there’s just not enough here to recommend it to anyone except die-hard Jackson fans, and that’s a real shame. The show is obsessed with Jackson’s successes, with projection screens proudly declaiming all of his achievements and awards throughout and the performers breaking up the songs with the kind of vainglorious biographical inserts that would make a Channel 5 documentary maker blush. I’m sure that, if you’re a Jackson fan and want to forget all of the controversy, this is going to be heaven for you. If, however, you were hoping for something with a little more edge, you will be sorely disappointed.
The really sad thing about all of this is that everyone involved is really quite good. The dancing is unbelievably good in places: the final encores replicate the “Billy Jean” and “Thriller” music videos and look simply outstanding, and the show is full of iconic Jackson moments – the glove, the “Smooth Criminal” lean, the “Beat It” fighting on the streets… there are too many to name, and they are all imitated with much love and talent. But that’s all they are – imitations.
I’d have loved to have seen a crazy writer try to smudge all of those moments into a cohesive plot – it almost wouldn’t have mattered how dreadful the plot was, because it would have couched the adoration into something a little more palatable – but on its own, this is just a very impressive tribute.