Jackson still thrilling the crowds

Thriller live

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

MICHAEL Jackson might have been Bad but no one could ever say the same about this all-action, high-octane tribute to his music – this is good with an upbeat, high tempo G.

The cast never stop moving from the opening chord to the final crash of the drums with high energy dancing and singing.

Notable among the hard-working talented cast was MJ Mytton-Sannah, a 12 year-old product of Wolverhampton Stagecoach who looks to have a bright future ahead of him. He has that ability to look supremely confident and at ease on stage without looking precocious or cocky  - all without that annoying stage school fixed grin. He immediately had a rapport with the audience and how the audience loved him – that boy could go far.

Also worth a mention was Samantha Johnson, the 22 year-old understudy who came on from the bench for the missing Hayley Evetts. She was majestic, and looked as if she had years of experience behind her, belting out songs like a good ‘un.

If this were a football team old Hayley would be struggling to get back in the starting XI after a performance like that.

Michael Jackson grew into a pop phenomenon after starting singing lead vocals with the Jackson 5, the band formed by his older brothers, when he was eight in 1964. His  untimely death almost two years ago has sparked a renewed interest in his career and music providing both a bonanza for both his estate and Sony music with revenues in excess of $1 billion since he died.

CELEBRATE

Thriller – Live though, wisely, is not about Jackson's life - that would be a very different story with all the eccentricity, rumours and controversy that surrounded it. Dating back to 2005 this is no jukebox musical instead it is a concert to celebrate his music with a script that, quite frankly, could be written around the margins of the ticket.

There is no story or narrative to speak of and what there is superficial homage and hyperbole with an ending that perhaps could have done with a bag or two of sugar less. But what is lacking in story is more than made up for by music. The cast dance, sing and swing through two and a half hours of Jackson's considerable output from a selection of 36 tracks, which means the show can be different each night. Tracks include hits such as Thriller, obviously, Bad, Billy Jean and Dangerous to Jackson 5 and Jacksons hits such as Can You Feel It? and She's Out of My Life.

The formulae of four lead vocalists – five if you include the young MJ -  backed by eight energetic, elastic dancers works well and the cast had no problems getting the audience on their feet whenever they wanted – throwing in even the old panto favourite of one half singing against the other.

Gary Lloyd's choreography keeps the action on full throttle and Johnathan Park's set design with LED tabs and screens provides always interesting and at times stunning visual effects while behind it all the seven piece band move seamlessly through funk, disco, R&B, ballads, soul and rock without missing a beat.

I was never a huge Jackson fan and I do wonder if his legacy and all the hype and fanciful claims made about him, particularly since his untimely death, will survive the test of time. Death can be a great career boost – sinner to saint overnight.

But you have to admit that he was a supremely talented performer and the four main vocalists, Johnson, Ian Pitter,  Nathan James and Dwayne Wint  have a big act to follow but to their credit they produce a lively, spectacular show backed by those phenomenal dancers and some classy moonwalking moves with at one point the entire male cast drifting back across the stage moonwalking in unison.

It is old hat now with any decent dancer with two legs having it in his repertoire but it still fascinates and for that alone Jackson deserves his place in history. But his dancing was much more than that and the show's dancers do their best to prove it.

Even in my prime (a rather overcast Tuesday afternoon in May, 1962) I could never have got close to them. If you want to lose weight – get a job as a dancer in the show, it's like aerobics on speed.

It has to be reviewed as a concert in its own right and on that basis it can hardly be faulted with a standing ovation to boot.

 For Jackson fans this is a wallow in nostalgia , albeit a fast paced, paddling hard, upbeat one, while for anyone else it is a non-stop barrage of highly entertaining dancing and, above all, music. To 30-04-11

Roger Clarke

Meanwhile, speaking of Dangerous . . .

*****

THIS concert-style tribute to the great Michael Jackson frequently has the audience on their feet clapping, cheering and swaying to the remarkable music of the undisputed King of Pop.

It's two hours of talent on stage, with a terrific cast belting out nearly 40 songs and delivering some sparkling choreography created by director Gary Lloyd.

How good, then, to see a young man from the Midlands starring as the young Jackson. MJ Mytton-Sannah, a 12-year-old Wolverhampton schoolboy, wows 'em with his singing and dancing when he dominates the opening 20 minutes.

MJ develops his theatre skills at Woverhampton Stagecoach, is a brown belt at kick boxing, and even plays for one of Wolverhampton Rugby Club's teams, as well as enjoying soccer, cycling and archery.

Busy lad. But there's little doubt that his future lies in the theatre rather than any sporting pursuit.

The show bristles with outstanding performers, non better than lead vocalist Ian Pitter who does so much to link various sections of the show together. On opening night Samantha Johnson excelled as the main female vocalist, and there were powerful contributions from Nathan James, of the long, flowing blond hair, and the energetic Dwayne Wint.

 Many of Jackson's great hits are on the programme, with a rousing reception for the epic Thriller near the end.

 Superb lighting effects add to a fine night out. Thriller lives on at the Hippodrome till 30.04.11.

Paul Marston

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