La Toya has just been booted out of the Big Brother house, Janet is in town and now Thriller Live opens in the West End; January seems to be the month of the Jacksons, though the celebrity family has had nothing to do with the creation of this show about their most famous sibling, Michael. The concept for this concert-style entertainment was thought up by Adrian Grant, a writer, producer and Jacko fan who has had some contact with the man himself over the years.
The show he has devised – with direction and choreography from Gary Lloyd – is a Michael Jackson tribute in which a group of singers and dancers perform his greatest hits, from the early days of ABC and I Want You Back with the Jackson 5, through his major solo hits including Off The Wall, Dangerous and Beat It, to his later work like Earth Song (though unfortunately without a recreation of Jarvis Cocker’s own tribute at the 1996 Brits) and Heal The World.
It is not a musical – there is no narrative, only brief interludes in which the members of the cast recount some of Jackson’s records and achievements. And the singers do not attempt to play Jackson and his brothers; they are introduced as themselves and give a flavour of the music and the man, rather than an exact impersonation. The only attempt at recreating his image comes from dancer Ricko Baird, who, dressed in a Jacko-style white suit and hat, gives us a taster of his signature moonwalking.
Of the singers, young Kieran Alleyne, a West End newcomer, leads the vocals on Jackson’s early hits with a natural voice, a wide smile and a confident enthusiasm. It serves to remind us of the fresh-faced, innocent youth of the boy who sang Music And Me and I Want You Back, not to mention the strangely poignant song about a rat, Ben.
Ashton Russell takes us through Jackson’s teenage years, before a trio of older male singers perform much of the later back catalogue. But a highlight is Denise Pearson, a former member of the UK’s version of the Jacksons, brother and sister band Five Star, whose 1980s heyday coincided with Jackson’s height of fame. Looking remarkably on form for someone whose band celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, Pearson sings many of Jackson’s songs, including I’ll Be There and Rock With You.
Of course the biggest hits of all are saved for the obligatory encore – Billie Jean, Bad, and a version of his werewolf-inspired video for Thriller. Can You Feel It?, the singers ask at one point during the show. It is a shame that the King of Pop, who has not toured since 1997, is not available to ask us that himself. I blame it on the boogie.