The Tenth Anniversary Performance of Thriller Live at the Lyric Theatre: A Energetic Celebration of the Music of Michael Jackson

Anthony Walker-Cook reviews this anniversary performance of Thriller Live, a concert show that celebrates the life of Michael Jackson. 

Music can inspire and bring people together, but it takes a degree of confidence for a show on the West End to not adopt a plot to tie together individual songs. The past ten years have seen a monumental series of jukebox musicals, some successful and some not. Of the former, examples include: Jersey Boys about Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons, Beautiful takes the music of Carol King, and night after night audiences at Mamma Mia dance in the aisles to some of ABBA’s greatest songs. Yet alongside these shows has also sat Thriller Live, which now enters its tenth year and celebrates the life, music and soul of Michael Jackson.

First organised by Adrian Grant, Thriller Live is unapologetic in its simplicity. Across two and a half hours a group of talented singers and dancers take audiences through a number of Jackson’s biggest hits. Director and choreographer Gary Lloyd does a fine job and his cast work through a commendable thirty-eight songs during the evening. Naturally it is impossible to have a plot stich that many songs together, and so audiences are rightly presented with Jackson’s success over the years, beginning when he was eleven when he was part of the Jackson 5.

Adrian Grant

From Thriller Live it is hard, probably almost impossible, to not be impressed and awed at Jackson’s continued success. It is also paramount to realise how much Jackson’s music and signature dance moves have entered into our mental jukeboxes: I do not profess to be a massive Jackson fan but was surprised at how many songs of the thirty-eight I could sing along to. And sing I did: the entire company’s impressive energy maintaining the audience’s reaction deserves special praise.

Yet one problem with the show is its use of mime. It is unsurprising given the physical demands of the dancing that mime is used, but it becomes so obvious that at points one cannot help but wonder where else it might be used. Also rather bizarre and incongruous were the low-energy emergences of the guitarists onto the stage. When surrounded by such hard-working performers it was disappointing to see such a lack of showmanship, though no doubt they were concentrating on playing the instruments properly. 

Original 2009 cast member Layton Williams

For these failings, however, Thriller Live offers spectacle upon spectacle, with Nigel Catmur’s lighting worthy especially of praise. The special tenth anniversary performance saw cast members from previous years enter the stage for ‘Earth Song’, joining singers Wayne Anthony-Cole, Vivienne Ekwulugo, Haydon Eshun and David Julien. Among these returning ‘Smooth Criminals’ included Ben Forster and Layton Williams.

In terms of West End shows, Thriller Live lacks a plot, to which some people might say ‘Beat It’, but it is instead a celebration of the life of Jackson. It is impossible not to feel the warmth in the room listening to the songs that defined the genres of pop and soul. The issue is not just ‘Black or White’, but seeing this concert show is easily an recommended experience for any fan of Michael Jackson, or, as he was known to some, the ‘Man in the Mirror’.   

4/5

Thriller Live is at the Lyric Theatre indefinitely. 

Feature and production photograph credit: Betty Zapata.


Anthony Walker-Cook is a PhD candidate at UCL and is the Theatre editor for London Student. His interests include theatre adaptation, early modern drama, classical myths made modern and all things eighteenth century. For more information please contact: anthony.walker-cook.17@ucl.ac.uk

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