Norwich Theatre Royal – 13th-18th January 2017 – £8-£32.50
Directed and choreographed by: Gary Lloyd
Executive director: Adrian Grant
Recently recognised as the 17th longest running production in West End history, in the eight years it has been thrilling audiences I have seen Gary Lloyd’s spectacular tribute to the King of Pop on three separate occasions. Each time it has been on tour from its established base at London’s Lyric Theatre, and each time it has improved significantly, growing more confident, more ebullient, more honed.
I attended Monday’s opening night of Thriller Live‘s week-long stop-off in East Anglia and the packed auditorium at Norwich’s Theatre Royal was buzzing; the atmosphere electric. The crowd were full of appreciative applause, singing along to the conveyor-belt of hits, all too willing to jump to their feet and whoop every time a moonwalk was executed.
With a back catalogue as enduring and studded with iconic anthems as Michael Jackson’s, there were always going to a few omissions in a single two-hour show, but Thriller Live managed to creativity cater to all musical tastes and fans of all eras of Jackson’s illustrious, multi-faceted career. From joyous J5 foot-tappers (“ABC”, “I Want You Back”, “Rockin’ Robin”) to adult mega-hits (“Billie Jean”, “Black or White”, “Earth Song”) via a disco inferno (“Blame it on the Boogie”, “Off the Wall“, “Dancing Machine”).
True the emphasis is on the familiar, mainstream choices (so not even a nod to Invincible, sadly), but the show still delivers outstanding variety, with room for a few fan-pleasing left-field inclusions along the way (“HIStory“, “Dangerous”, “Heartbreak Hotel”), while the pin-point choreography and array of colourful costume changes ascertains how closely these energetic performers emulate their subject.
From heartfelt, soul-drenching ballads such as “She’s Out of My Life” to an astonishing recreation of a complex dance routine Jackson rehearsed – but never performed live – for “Remember the Time”, Thriller Live pops and locks with unrestrained fervour. As well as a group of male and female chorus dancers, five main performers shine with varying strengths on different numbers, from a mohawked rocker on “Beat It” and “Dirty Diana” to a full-on tribute artist who has Jackson’s signature “Smooth Criminal” and “Thriller” routines down to a fine art.
If I were to vocalise a slight niggle it is that the first half closes on a rather long disco section which could have been spread out to better space the club bangers amid the ballads, while the ‘story’ is more thematic than chronological and eventually fizzles out into a cavalcade of songs (not that I’m complaining). Otherwise, take it from a life-long fan: this is a spellbinding and top-quality tribute to an absolute legend who was gone too soon.
CR@B’s Claw Score: