Grand Opera House, Belfast
THIS glitzy concert of song and dance first opened at London’s Lyric Theatre in 2009. Now five years on, it’s still going strong and makes a return to Belfast’s Grand Opera House.
Thriller Live is a two and a half hour concert celebrating the music of The Jackson 5 and the solo work of Michael Jackson and runs in the same vein as other Jukebox musicals that have come before; think Mama Mia and We Will Rock You.
But in truth this isn’t really a show or a musical — it’s more a mishmash of an X Factor Michael Jackson Special mixed with a crazy karaoke/dance competition — only a hundred times better.
Lacking any real plot or cohesion, the show takes us on a journey of the incredible career of the undisputed king of pop, showcasing Michael’s biggest hits in a (somewhat) chronological order.
There is some narrative though, with the performers occasionally regaling us with statistics about Jackson’s amazing career — including some gushing tributes between songs including this cheeser— “Michael Jackson isn’t just a recording star, he’s also a visionary and an extraordinary human being”.
Directed by Gary Lloyd, who also doubles as a choreographer, the show keeps the energy level at fever pitch almost throughout, and the dance routines, featuring daring leaps break-dancing, and, of course, the moonwalk, are spectacular. There is also a terrific, if somewhat nerdy, band which play a range of funk, soul and disco, all the way through to candy-rush pop and guitar-led rock.
The first half sees a medley of hits from Michael’s time in the 70s including the songs I Want You Back, and ABC, while there’s no let up after the interval, with hit after hit after hit — Billie Jean, Thriller, Dirty Diana and Smooth Criminal being particular highlights.
More than half a dozen different vocalists are entrusted with the songs, with stand-out performances coming from Cleo Higgins and Jesse Smith (pictured below).
Cleo, probably best known for her days as the lead singer of 90s RnB act Cleopatra, and as a 2013 semi-finalist in BBC’s The Voice, is Outstanding. She delivers each of her solos with aplomb, and her moves are on par with her more experienced adversaries.
While Jesse, who has starred in hundreds of shows, including Bohemian Rhapsody and Les Miserables, is captivating. Not only can he hit the notes, but his stage presence means all eyes are on him.
The show culminates with the crowd on their feet, with a well-deserved standing ovation. For a Monday night, the cast have created a full on party— and If a show can kick off like this, I can only imagine how wild this could get come Saturday.
For diehard fans this musical is a great way to remember how Michael changed the world of pop music. The only thing lacking is any real grit, since the show glosses over any of Michael’s more dubious moments. Apart from that, and the fact it left out the Earth Song (I was hoping for wind machines) this show is a real winner.
I wasn’t expecting big things from this high-energy tribute to the king of pop. But even me, a self-confessed Jacko non-believer, couldn’t help but love Thriller Live. Fun, slick and extremely upbeat… this is one musical you’ve got to see. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m away to listen to Bad in full…
Thriller Live runs at the Grand Opera House until Saturday (September 28). For more details visit www.goh.co.uk