JOYCE MCMILLAN on THRILLER at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 30.6.09
MICHAEL JACKSON’S sudden death, five days ago, may have sent a tidal wave of grief, nostalgia, speculation and innuendo sweeping through the world’s media. But there was absolutely no sign of hysteria at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow last night, when – by pure chance – the touring Michael Jackson tribute show, Thriller Live!, arrived in the city for a six-day run.
Instead, there was a full house of quiet, prosperous-looking theatregoers in early middle age, waiting patiently for a reconstructed glimpse of the music, the moves, the style, that make Michael Jackson worth remembering. Above all, they were waiting for the great global hits – from I Want You Back at the very beginning of it all, to Thriller at the end – that would finally give them permission to get to their feet, to scream and shout a bit, and to start getting down as only a Glasgow audience can, when a bit of soul comes their way.
So it’s good to report that this well-tried touring show – directed in the UK by Gary Lloyd, from an original idea by Adrian Grant – did not disappoint them, but absolutely fulfilled their need to see Jackson’s life and music celebrated, with plenty of resepct, and very little sentimentality. The show uses some slightly unexpected strategies, in leading its audience through a more-or-less chronological series of around 30 of Jackson’s greatest hits. It supplies some light biographical narrative, but generally lets the songs speak for themselves, and never takes the story beyond the early 1990’s. And it never assigns any one performer to “play” Jackson, either as a child or as an adult; instead, a cast of seven lead vocalists including blonde Pop Idol graduate Hayley Evetts – backed by a team of nine fine dancers – share the songs.
In the end, though, this slightly oblique approach to the challenge of recreating Jackson’s enigmatic stage personality seems in some ways more effective than a straightforward attempt at impersonation; and the first half of the show does a fine, lucid job of tracing Jackson’s musical development from the early Motown days, through to the collision with the disco movement of the late 1970’s that produced his great songs of the early 1980’s, with their driving rhythms and dark, soul-driven lyrics.
In the second half, the sound quality begins to suffer from a messy reverberation that cuts across the work of an excellent six-piece band, and the music sometimes seems overwhelmed by the effort to recreate onstage the look and feel of some of Jackson’s iconic pop videos. But by the end of the evening, fulll tribute has been paid to the range of Jackson’s work, from satanic disco to save-the-world anthems. When one of the singers offered the thought that though Michael is gone, his music will live on, the audience roared their approval; and it seemed to me that Michael Jackson would have been glad to hear them, and gladder still to hear his great repertoire of songs performed once more, not only with feeling, but with joy.