It must be said that Thriller Live really misses an opportunity here to serve up a substantial musical about the life of Michael Jackson, which is just begging to be written. Termed as a ‘jukebox musical’, it teetered dangerously close to an X-Factor competition at times. The soloists, all gifted singers, brought various elements of Michael Jackson’s songs to life; but each song unfolded with a variety of vocalists rotating a few lines each in their best imitations, which quickly became jarring to listen to.
The first act was peppered with sparse narrative (if it could even be called that) only informing the audience of Jackson’s musical accolades and offering nothing on his life. Thriller Live has been touring for a decade and it feels it; the choreography was clunky and often drew the eyes to too many places, or too few. The ballads particularly suffered from the lack of staging, often leaving just one or two performers trying and failing to command the entire stage with a solitary spotlight.
The young performer who sings I Want You Back was suspiciously absent from the ensemble, appearing only on the screen whilst jumpsuit-clad girls grated wildly in front of his wholesome face. It would have been better to see him on stage and singing more than just one of the Jackson Five numbers, but for whatever reason they decided to go without. The highlight of the act was Ben, appearing in the first medley, which was beautifully executed by Ina Seidon, the best singer by a long shot (it’s criminal she isn’t a lead vocalist).
The second act was much stronger with hits from Bad and Thriller; with punchy, group-synchronised choreography filling the stage. If everyone on stage danced with the gusto and precision of Paris Johnson, the whole thing would feel tighter and fresher. The biggest numbers; Billie Jean, Bad, Earth-Song, and Thriller had more fluid choreography, better costumes and more sophisticated stage effects. We got a brief glimpse of the band – they were sadly tucked away behind the screens and without them it felt a little gimmicky, however they did appear at points to blast us with a suitable ripping solo.
Overall, the mish-mash costumes, choreography and singing styles meant the whole production fell more than a little short of the reputation that precedes it. The show is coining itself as a celebration of the life and music of Michael Jackson – it would have been nice if it actually had been. As it is, the show does little to inform or engage those in the audience who aren’t too familiar with his life and work outside of the big hits.
Thriller Live runs at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre until Sat 19th May