The premise of Thriller Live is exactly what it says on the tin: a showcase of the greatest hits of one of the greatest stars the world has ever seen, the iconic performer Michael Jackson. Several strong male leads take turns to sing the well-known numbers, and all of them sound uncannily like Jackson himself; if you closed your eyes, there were times when you would have thought it was actually him on stage. That’s how close the singers get to capturing his tone, his pitch, and the momentum in the melody.
I loved the live band too, visible periodically to the audience. They did a fantastic job; the songs were well-presented, and the different arrangements mostly worked well. Jackson's Christmas hit Earth Song was a particular highlight, with the whole ensemble appealing together to the audience.
The dancers threw themselves into every routine with high energy and pace, and the choreography was sassy, full of fast moves and variety. And among the big numbers, Sean Christopher did an excellent job of capturing all of Jackson’s best mannerisms: the tipped trilby, flicking of jackets, and of course the move that everyone was there to see – the moonwalk.
But there were too many things that didn’t add up for me. Confusingly, Christopher was sometimes on stage strutting his stuff while other performers sang the songs; at times the feel was less like a live performance, and more like moves to a soundtrack. All in all, the production lacked some finesse, looking a little tired and repetitive in parts. For the opening night’s performance in a new venue, I felt that it lacked the electricity of doing something for the first time.
It was a little forced as well. Some of the numbers were over-dramatic for me, ending up corny and unconvincing, and halfway through the first half was too soon to get us up on our feet for an audience sing-off. The performers had to work hard to get us to participate at that point, when it should have been a spontaneous thing – the moment when the music takes you, and you just don't want to stay in your seat a moment longer.
Overall, I’d have liked to have had a little more balance: there was barely any story content, just a few facts about Jackson's meteoric rise to fame thrown in randomly here and there. I was particularly disappointed that the early hit singles of the Jackson 5, where the young Michael blew the world away with his obvious talent, were not portrayed as such. Although the lead female (Angelica Allen) had a great singing voice, I couldn't engage in the same way when those early Motown songs were being sung.
So this is a credible tribute to a legendary singer, showcasing all his best-known songs… but it feels like a missed opportunity to do something more. Still, the audience were up on their feet at the end, singing and clapping along – and as a piece of sheer entertainment built round great music, it’s hard to fault. Forgive me for the pun, then, but this production wasn’t at all Bad; it just wasn't as thrilling as it might have been for me.