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By Margaret Chrystall
FROM the spoof Vincent Price voiceover from THAT game-changing Michael Jackson video warning us to switch off mobiles to the dramatic stage version of THAT dance, this show can be summed up in one word. Thriller.
You probably wouldn’t even need to be much of a fan of the King of Pop to get worked up by THRILLER LIVE early on – like Monday’s crowd who were up on their feet in just a few songs.
Energy levels from the crew of dancers and four subtly different, blatantly brilliant vocalists were high from the first number.
Jackson’s 1995 song HIStory set the scene which went straight back to the days of the Jackson 5 line-up - joined by Michael when he was just five - with I Want You Back and ABC as the pillar screens at the side of the stage showed colourful cartoon figures of the five.
But singer Wayne Robinson quickly got back to the story, preparing us for Jackson’s “rollercoaster journey”.
Deborah Dada took the lead vocal for Jackson’s fourth UK number one I’ll Be There. And part of the pleasure of the night was listening to the different lead vocalists use their own voice’ strengths to portray Jackson’s in their own way. All are faithful to the sweetness and the power, his unique mix of falsetto, growls and the “hiccup” that started to be a signature around the time of the Off The Wall album – the show’s Alex Buchanan and J Rome best at delivering that.
Among the showstopping sections was the disco era with Blame It On The Boogie, Shake Your Body Down and Let Me Show You. And all it took to get the crowd on their feet was a cue to clap as the cast pulled out the dance stops, some boy dancers flipping 360s in the air before landing on their feet.
Singer Alex Buchanan brought a complete change of mood in ballad She’s Out Of My Life, showing off his emotional strengths with a voice that majors on the top end tenderness of Jackson’s vocal. But it also displayed anguished acrobatics for one of the best songs of the night, Dirty Diana – though his sideways moonwalk was equally impressive in Bad.
Rock With You was one of only a few songs in the night that seemed to drag in comparison to the many full-on numbers that pumped out energy, such as Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough with J Rome on lead vocals, joined by Wayne Robinson.
It was good when all four singers joined forces, as in first half finisher, The Jacksons’ Can You Feel It which created the kind of high that gives you goosebumps.
Sometimes in the dancier numbers it sounded as if the singers might be getting a little help from backing tracks – though Deborah Dada seemed to have mastered energy conservation to keep singing flawlessly, moving her arms to the beat, but keeping her platformed-feet fairly still so she didn’t sound breathless in Pretty Young Thing. Yet she seemed too relaxed in making the notes she sang not to set your mime-ometer flashing – singing to her own taped voice maybe? Yet a big-up for having the balls to attempt the iconic Michael Jackson crotch-grab when you’re a girl, but she nailed it in The Way You Make Me Feel. And in a duet with Wayne Robinson for Just Can’t Stop Loving You, the singer made the transition to slow and moody without batting an eyelid, showing off her versatility.
Smooth Criminal was one of the night’s big dramatic pieces with dancer Dak Mashava impressive in white suit, though his performance of the night came in his Billie Jean solo.
Bad, Earth Song and Black And White were part of the big finish at the end of a theatrical, all-action, musically-impressive, value-for-money show that delivered the whole masterly music career without any mention of Jackson’s troubled personal life - the child sex abuse allegations, the plastic surgery addiction, dangling his baby out a window or the drug dependency that led to his death.
But highspot of the night – Thriller – was a reminder of how much the maverick performer Jackson’s legacy is worth celebrating.
Thriller Live is at Eden Court until Saturday.