QPAC, Concert Hall
January 18 – 25
When I was in London last month, I was amazed at the crowds being drawn to “Thriller Live”, a show that continues to live on in its seventh year in the West End. After seeing the show’s Australian incantation, I can only say that my amazement continues.
The show features over two hours of non-stop hits from pop to rock and soul to disco as it pays homage to Michael Jackson’s legendary performances. As such, it is more of a song and dance concert than a musical theatre show. A range of vocalists are entrusted with the songs of arguably the world’s greatest entertainer. Among the cast are performers from America, the United Kingdom and Australia – including reality television stars Mig Ayesa (“Rock Star: INXS”) and Prinnie Stevens (“The Voice”). This represents the first of the show’s downfalls. Could they not find a man with the right vocal range or a younger performer as in overseas productions? And even though she is the weakest, vocally, on stage, as a dancer, Stevens is a better singer.
This is very much a show of two halves. The first act represents the early years of the singer’s career and not since “Saturday Night Fever” has disco taken centre stage with such a wallop. With costumes that could have come straight from “That 70s Show”, these early segments showcase the vocal talents and Timomatic swagger of J Rome, one of the show’s lead vocalists. But even so, it is a slow start. There is an Act One participation segment where audience members are forced out of their seats to echo song segments, which seems like lazy programming, especially occurring as it does so early in the show.
The second act is unquestionably superior, especially its final medley of big hits. Perhaps this is due to our increased familiarity with the songs and clips, but recreation of his infamous ‘Billie Jean’ routine (complete with Moonwalk is an unarguable highlight. Indeed, Sean Christopher who plays the dancing role of Michael Jackson is certainly adept in his signature moves, as is seen in the titular ‘Thriller’. If only the entire show could have been to this standard.
Although I am old enough to recall seeing Jackson’s 1983 ‘Billie Jean’ routine at the celebration of Motown Records’ 25th anniversary, I never saw MJ live in concert (I was always more of a Prince fan and I was living 1000km away from the civilisation of Brisvegas). However, friends who did see him at ANZ Stadium in 1996 say that the ‘Dangerous’ segment of the stage show is like a trip down memory lane.
Another highlight is the slick performance of ‘Smooth Criminal’, as homage to its iconic video clip, during which unveiled his anti-gravity lean for the first time. In every instance, the performers are supported by a fantastic band who are, unfortunately, hidden away for most of the show which is a shame.
Despite these examples, “Thriller Live” is not all about literal interpretation of Jackson’s work. Rather, it aims to embody the soul and spirit of his work, especially in the more reflective moments such as a beautiful rendition of ‘Earth Song’ and the poignant ballad ‘She’s Out of My Life’ from Ayesa.
Perhaps the show’s success isn’t such an amazement at all. It’s a spectacle, which apparently, few mere mortals can exist, and it has little to do with theatre at all. It’s a tourist attraction, all colour and movement and fun. What a shame that this is probably at the expense of other shows of more narrative worth.