Thriller comes to Festival Theatre

Michael Jackson show Thriller Live. Pic: Comp

Michael Jackson show Thriller Live. Pic: Comp

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‘DARKNESS fall across the land...” this week and not just because the clocks have gone back. Oh, and you can substitute ‘the land’ with ‘Nicolson Street.’ That’s where you will find Thriller Live until Saturday.

With zombies, werewolves and a whole host of performers bringing the King of Pop Michael Jackson back to life, it’s a fitting entertainment for Hallowe’en.

And where better to celebrate Jackson’s spookiest hit than in one of the Capital’s most haunted theatres.

Directed and co-written by John Landis, the man responsible for movies such as National Lampoon’s Animal House, The Blues Brothers and perhaps unsurprisingly, An American Werewolf in London, Thriller was released in 1983.

A 13-minute long music video it quickly became regarded as ‘the most influential pop music video of all time,’ setting the bar for all that would follow, not least because sales of more than nine million copies secured it a place in the Guinness World Records in 2006 as the ‘most successful music video’ ever.

At the Festival Theatre the song is set to be a suitable show-stopper as Thriller Live reacquaints itself with the city.

Now the 20th longest-running musical on the West End, Thriller Live is a non-stop celebration of the life of the undisputed King of Pop, from his early days to his untimely death at the age of 50 in 2009.

From pop to rock, soul to disco, the Jackson 5 to his solo years, expect all your favourite songs including I Want You Back, ABC, Can You Feel It, Off The Wall, The Way You Make Me Feel, Smooth Criminal, Beat It, Billie Jean, Dirty Diana, Bad, Rock With You, They Don’t Care About Us, Dangerous, Heal The World, and of course, Thriller.

Playing over Hallowe’en in a theatre believed to be haunted by numerous ghosts including that of the Great Lafayette, the greatest magician of his time who perished on the site when a previous theatre burned to the ground, should add a frisson of excitement when the touring company perform the big number

“The Thriller Live production in Edinburgh is a spanking new cast who will take the show to Australia and New Zealand in December,” says a company spokesman.

“Edinburgh is only the second date of their international tour so while the cast haven’t experienced anything spooky yet, they are in fear and trepidation of whatever ghostly preferences await them in Auld Reekie. The theatre there has a fearsome reputation among actors.”

The Edinburgh cast will ultimately replace the West End cast at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, where the current incumbents have already experienced ghostly goings on.

It was there in 1984 that Leonard Rossiter, star of the TV sitcom Rising Damp, died in the dressing room closest to the stage while waiting to go on stage in Joe Orton’s play, Loot.

To this day, stage hands say that the darkest corner of the stage near his dressing room regularly manifests a chilly atmosphere and spectral visions. So much so that some backstage staff are fearful of staying there alone too long.

Actor David Jordan (pictured as Michael Jackson) has the dressing room next to Rossiter’s and reveals he had a terrifying experience just a few weeks ago.

Not performing that night, he was watching his understudy, from a box on the Circle level.

“Another member of the Thriller Live creative team was in the box above me,” he explains, “She put a glass of water on the floor, looked around at the audience then reached down to get it... it had moved to the other side of the box.

“Puzzled, she stood up to reach out to get it only to be pulled back violently by the hair.

“She tore downstairs and into my box and told me what had happened.

“We both looked up to where she had been sitting and there was a ghostly black figure. We both let out a silent scream, and fled to the bar.”

Hopefully the Edinburgh cast won’t experience anything so dramatic during their visit to the Capital.

But the legacy of Thriller doesn’t just live on in theatre productions. Fans will be pleased to hear that there are plans for the original music video to be re-released in 3D, after Jackson’s Estate settled a dispute over profits and rights with Landis. The director is planning to release the new 3D version in 2015.

He said, “It is going to reappear in a highly polished and three-dimensional way that is very exciting on the big screen... I cannot tell you any more... I might have to kill you.”

In the meantime, why not moonwalk along to the hits of Michael Jackson at the Festival Theatre.

Happy Hallowe’en.

Thriller Live, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, until Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 3.30pm), £17-£29.50, 0131-529 6000