LOVE him or loathe him, there’s no denying that Michael Jackson was a phenomenon that, like many before him, simply grew in stature after his death, the mysteries surround ing his life as fascinating as the legend himself.
If ever proof of his ongoing popularity was required, you need look no further than Thriller Live, which returns to The Playhouse next week.
Described as ‘a spectacular concert show that celebrates the music of the world’s greatest entertainer and undisputed King of Pop,’ Thriller Live is no jukebox musical.
Unlike shows such as We Will Rock You and Mama Mia, Thriller Live is not a rigid book musical with set songs, but a constantly evolving concert celebration featuring the greatest hits of Jackson and the Jackson 5.
“Thriller Live is the ultimate celebration of Michael Jackson’s music. We don’t tell the story of Michael’s life, but we celebrate the King of Pop via two-hours of song and dance. It’s a feel-good show that the whole family can enjoy. We have one of the hardest working casts out there, and the audience certainly get their money’s worth,” says Adrian Grant, the show’s creator who knew the singer over a 20-year period.
Five years ago, I sat in London’s Lyric Theatre as Thriller Live first moon-walked into the West End. A surreal evening if ever there was one. The diminutive George Sampson, winner of Britain’s Got Talent sat to my left, behind me, Jackson’s sibling Tito. It was the night Latoya Jackson was evicted from the Celebrity Big Brother House and Tito had to be persuaded not to nip away at the interval to collect her - Latoya later turned up at the aftershow.
The show itself is a glorious, almost evangelical romp through the highlights of a 37-year career, from Ben to Earth Song and beyond, all the hits are there, as are the iconic costumes from down the decades.
Needless to say on that opening night the crowd were ecstatic - it was the closest I’ve come to being at a religious rally, so powerful were the emotions on and off stage.
Since then, several world tours have taken the show to 26 different countries. Next week it’s Scotland’s turn once again, although it’s unlikely any special guests will turn out during the Edinburgh run.
Another example of the ongoing appeal of Jackson is that many celebrity fans have joined the cast on stage for one-off appearances, including boy band Blue who performed Man In The Mirror, Macy Gray, who performed Rock With You and Joe McElderry who sang She’s Out Of My Life. Not forgetting Pudsey Bear who danced throughout the show last year for Children in Need.
So just what is it about Michael Jackson and his music that instils such fanaticism in his followers?
Grant offers, “There will never be another Michael Jackson. Michael grew up during the Motown era and worked hard with his brothers touring and perfecting their craft.
“Furthermore he learnt from greats such as Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Jackie Wilson and James Brown. He always said he would ‘study the greats and aim to become better.’
“You may find an individual who can sing better or dance better - but what made Michael the King of Pop was that he did everything and he did it so very well and with his own style.
“As a songwriter he was sometimes underrated, but hits such as Billie Jean, Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Earth Song and Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough are pure pop classics.
“As a singer he had an incredible four-octave range and as a dancer he created breakthrough videos such as Beat It and Thriller and was complimented by none other than Fred Astaire.”
Thriller Live brings to life Jackson’s distinctive high-energy dancing and the pulsating sound of pop’s greatest hits. It blends this with eye-popping video footage and effects along with dazzling choreography by the award-winning Gary Lloyd.
Check it out, and the chances are, you too will find yourself caught up in the mythology of Michael Jackson.
• Thriller - Live, The Playhouse, Monday-Thursday and Saturday, 7.30pm, Friday, 5pm & 8pm, Saturday matinee 3pm, £10-£37.50, 0844-871 3014