A former Billy Elliot and an ex-Lion King are to play the young Michael Jackson in tribute show Thriller – Live which plays at the Lyric theatre from 2 January. Layton Williams and Sterling Williams will alternate as the pre-pubescent popstrel along with newcomer Kieran Alleyne.
The trio – cast through open auditions just two weeks ago – were on stage for a photocall at the Lyric this morning where they performed one of the Jackson 5’s early hits, I Want You Back.
Layton Williams finished his run playing the title role in Lee Hall’s hit musical Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace at the end of November, and has recently appeared in BBC2 comedy Beautiful People. Sterling Williams (no relation to Layton) was last in the West End playing Simba in Disney’s The Lion King at the Lyceum, but has been in full time education for the past year. They are joined by Alleyne, who makes his professional stage debut in the show. His only stage experience is playing Michael Jackson in a school tribute production.
Gary Lloyd, director and choreographer of Thriller – Live, said of the inexperienced Alleyne: “He was actually one of the most confident out of everybody we saw on the day. He was really, really good. He’s got great musicality and pitch; he’s a good little mover.”
The show, which Lloyd describes as “a concert strung together through video affects and narrative”, is intended as a celebration of the American pop star’s life and career from his early days as the young frontman of the Jackson 5 in the 1970s, through to his 1991 album Dangerous. The trio of youngsters, who will alternate in the role of the young Jackson, are joined by an older actor who will play the star at the time of his 1982 album Thriller. The rest of Jackson’s hits in the show are performed by singers who appear as themselves, including Denise Pearson from 1980s British group Five Star.
“I grew up on Michael Jackson and he was the ultimate inspiration for anybody wanting to go into this industry,” said Lloyd. “So to be offered the opportunity to actually put all of that work together with my own work involved as well is like a dream come true. We’re all extremely excited that we’re opening in the West End because we’ve worked really hard putting the show on tour and we think that more people need to see it.”
The King of Pop himself is not involved in the production, though Lloyd said he had “embraced” the show in its earlier incarnation as a touring production. Thriller – Live does have the backing of record company Sony, which owns Jackson’s back catalogue.
Thriller – Live opens at the Lyric on 21 January after previews from 2 January and is booking until 12 April. Currently at the Lyric is Eddie Izzard: Stripped, which ends its limited run on 23 December.