Theatre Review: THRILLER LIVE – Palace Theatre, Manchester

David Julien in THRILLER LIVE

Despite its loose narrative, THRILLER LIVE successfully pays homage to the King of Pop

3 out of 5 stars

It’s been nearly 11 years since Michael Jackson died but as the audience took to their seats in Manchester’s Palace Theatre for the press night of THRILLER LIVE, it’s clear to see his legacy still lives on. 

An icon of the 20th Century, Jackson began his career enjoying chart-topping success with his brothers in the Motown era as the Jackson 5, before embarking on a solo career in 1971. Record sales consistently orbited, culminating in the biggest-selling album of all time – THRILLER – in 1982, the inspiration behind theatre show THRILLER LIVE.

Direct from London’s West End, where it is now in its record-breaking 10th year, THRILLER LIVE is a two-hour homage to Jackson’s legendary career. With non-stop hits from pop to rock, soul to disco, this all-singing, all-dancing conveyor belt of more than 30 of Jackson’s greatest hits, feels very much like an evening’s entertainment on a cruise ship or holiday camp.

Held together by the loosest of narratives, the show opens with a selection of Jackson 5 numbers. A collection of vocalists appear one after the other to perform hits such as I’LL BE THERE, ABC and BLAME IT ON THE BOOGIE in a relatively simple yet uniformly upbeat performance. The addition of a random dancer acting the buffoon to the latter number adds nothing to the narrative, ultimately distracting from the show. The same can be said for ROCKIN’ ROBIN which sees a video of a small child performing the number on giant screens while dancers’ disco around the stage. No vocals are actually performed by the cast here, making you wonder why the team just didn’t buy the rights to Jackson’s original performance and play that on-screen instead.

Thankfully, as the show moves into Jackson’s solo career, you really get a reminder of the singer’s versatility and the unique gloss he lent to pop, rock, dance and even ballads. SHE’S OUT OF MY LIFE is crooned by Manchester’s own David Julien and, while he doesn’t boast the vocal power of fellow vocalists Britt Quentin and Adriana Louise, when the ensemble do come together, his vocals blend well.

You do, however, get the impression that many of the numbers have been chosen to showcase the vocalists’ talents rather than as crowd-pleasers. Some songs have been adapted to fit the lead singer’s style and aren’t true to the original, like HUMAN NATURE, which is a little disappointing. Others could be cut completely. Who would pick THIS PLACE HOTEL as one of Jackson’s top hits? This is probably a pointless answer on POINTLESS.

That said, where THRILLER LIVE truly dazzles is in its choreography. Kieran Alleyne is simply superb as the silver gloved performer who moonwalks effortlessly from BILLIE JEAN to THRILLER, the tough choreography inspiring huge cheers for the inevitable stage foot shuffle and the classic forward lean of SMOOTH CRIMINAL. Many of the routines are true to the iconic storytelling videos synonymous with Jackson, even if the DIRTY DIANA routine is a little raunchy for the young ones in the audience.

While THRILLER LIVE isn’t flawless, the elaborate costumes and variation in dance styles do showcase Jackson to the full. This is all helped by the video walls and lighting which add to each performance and the appearance of the band, proving that his music is truly live. An entertaining tribute to the man who ventured into the uncharted waters of mixing musical genres and came out the King of Pop.

THRILLER LIVE runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until 15 February 2020.