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Thriller Live

Celebration of the music of Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5.
New Theatre, Oxford, Sat 10 May - Sat 19 March 2016 & Thu 20 - Sat 22 September 2019

September 21, 2018
Exploding with energy

Whatever you think of Michael Jackson, there is no getting away from his ubiquitous canon of work – from the early 60s with his brothers in The Jackson Five right up until his untimely death at the age of 50 in 2009, Jackson was performing, creating and changing music.

Thriller Live is a phenomenal tribute to his back-catalogue. At the beginning of this new UK tour of the show, the performers start as they mean to go on, bounding onto the stage in an explosion of energy and exuberance and not stopping until the house lights go up over 2 hours later. With the five main vocalists (Kieran Alleyne, Britt Quentin, Trace Kennedey, Ina Seidon and Rory Taylor) wowing the audience with their amazing ability to capture the sound created by Jackson, I spent the entire night in awe. It’s impossible to pick anybody from the production out as being ‘my favourite’; their voices were captivating when singing solo but dovetailed perfectly when singing together.

I must admit, while I grew up when Michael Jackson was at his height of fame, I would never really have called myself a fan. I was just aware of his music and his life as told by the tabloids. Coming to this show I didn’t really know what to expect or whether I would really enjoy it. So, it’s safe to say I was more than pleasantly surprised when I emerged into the rainy Thursday night with a massive grin on my face and my hands vibrating from all the clapping.

Aside from the outstanding vocals, the choreography of the production is also awe-inspiring. When I’m watching any musical performance which involves so much physicality, I am always amazed at how the performers can do this night after night. But the synchronicity of complicated choreography in Thriller Live left me astounded. A lot of work and love has clearly gone into this production and the performers shine throughout, aided by the big screens and extravagant lighting. The band, led by Musical Director Andy Jeffcoat, are hidden behind one of the main big screens at the back of the stage, but the performers make sure we appreciated their talent by bringing out a couple of guitarists (Allan Salmon and Rob Minns) at key points during the show, and of course by introducing us to them at both the beginning and end of the show.

As the show came to its crescendo the big hits came thick and fast and the audience were on their feet, clapping and dancing in the limited space (some running down to the front for 'Billy Jean'). There was a party atmosphere even after the show had ended and the audience were spilling out onto the wet streets of Oxford. Thriller Live is a tonic; an uplifting celebration of music, talent and dance. I might have to start calling myself a Michael Jackson fan after this.

March 15, 2016
No deep insights, but you'll have a great time

A musical based on the songs of Michael Jackson might seem like a sure-fire crowd pleaser, but following Jackson's death and the continued, if not increased, ubiquity of his songs have caused them to become more like background noise in restaurants than songs that can still, well, thrill.

But that's where Thriller Live excels. Instead of relying on just an impersonator (and there is one, Sean Christopher, and he is eerily good) they have a group of four singers tackle Jackson's songs, taking turns on the lead vocals. And with a fantastic live accompaniment from a band as well as more than enough sequins and bell-bottoms to go around, it's almost impossible to not have a good time.

The problem with Jackson has always been his turbulent life, and instead of attempting to grapple with any of those issues, Thriller Live ignores the actual Jackson story and lets his music explain everything. Which is probably for the best. After all, Jackson is arguably the greatest entertainer of all time, and this comes through during the show time and time again. You know the big songs are coming and even just the opening notes of 'Smooth Criminal', 'Billie Jean' or 'Thriller' is enough to give the audience chills. At times, the almost literal adaptation from the music videos to the stage make you simply want to watch the videos themselves, but when the rotation-lead Jacksons return to the stage, the new choreography and great voices that resemble and don't mimic gives the show a fresh feeling.

In particular the vocals of Angelica Allen breathed new life into the songs. Having a female lead showcases not only the skill in Jackson's vocals, but the fascinating possibilities his songs may still have in the future. The 34 songs fly-by, in large part because of the constant dancing and movement on stage. The entire show feels greater than any one moment, which somehow makes moments like the moonwalk or even the famous 'Thriller' dance slightly underwhelming.

But it doesn't matter. Thriller Live is a chance to at least hear the music of Jackson with a production value he would be proud of at a time when seeing the man himself is no longer possible. You won't get any deep insights into the man himself, but you will certainly have a good time.

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