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Review: Thriller Live

It don't matter whether you're black or white, MJ's hits live on.


Thriller Live is the West End dedication to Michael Jackson’s life and works. It’s a performance that doesn’t seem entirely sure whether it’s a tribute act, a glorified karaoke, or a ‘jukebox show’, as co-producer Adrian Grant terms it.

For our money, Thriller Live is a lot like Stars In Their Eyes. If Stars In Their Eyes were entirely populated by camp black men. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this is, simply, a Jacko tribute. The fact it’s hosted in the posh surroundings of the Lyric Theatre and advertised to death around Theatreland could mislead people to think they’re seeing a polished West End performance – when in fact it’s more like what you get in one of the karaoke bars a few doors up.

The show markets itself as a visual extravaganza, which all sounds very exciting. ‘What could it be?’ we optimistically wondered. A glorious light show? Acrobats? Some clever 3D thing with those geek glasses? Well, turns out the visual extravaganza is a big telly with images that look like a lot like that screen 90s kids got watching Windows Media Player. Not so exceptional. But on the plus side, it included big swishy rainbows as the backdrop to one song, accompanied by topless men dancing with giant red flags. Which was right up our alley.

It also has the ‘awwh’ factor, with a few numbers performed by a little kid who had learned MJ’s dance moves, and most of the lyrics. He wasn’t exactly Shaheen Jafargholi, but it was sweet, when you ignored the on-cue smiles and stench of pushy stage parent. Plus, if there’s one lesson we can take from Michael Jackson’s life, it’s that sticking primary school kids on the stage is a great idea.

There’s an obvious problem with performing Michael Jackson songs: nobody is going to do them justice. MJ was, of course, the greatest popstar that ever was. Which is why, if you were to ask us which Jackson song best sums up Thriller Live, the easy answer would be 'Bad'.

Fortunately, Thriller Live doesn’t try to recreate his star quality.

It’s about as straight as the queue for the loos in G-A-Y. It’s riddled with audience participation. Audience participation that falls flat at first because this is Britain, and we don’t do whooping and dancing with strangers until after three jugs of gin. But by the end, the whole theatre was on their feet, screeching Billie Jean and moonwalking down the aisles.

Provided you know what you’re going to see – a karaoke with big tellies – then this show has its own appeal. It’s cheeky, fun and has the family friendly charm of a classic Panto. But stick with the cheap seats.

To get those cheap seats, visit http://thrillerlive.com/

Words:Benjamin Butterworth/@benjaminbutter

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