“an energetic and spectacular tribute to one of the most influential artists who has ever lived”
Thriller Live first opened at the Lyric Theatre in London in 2009 and since then has had over 4,000 performances and is soon to be the 11th longest running musical in the West End. Celebrating the life and legacy of Michael Jackson, Thriller Live, produced by Paul Walden and Derek Nicol, takes its audience on a journey through the King of Pop’s greatest hits from his early life in the Jackson 5 to his dizzying success with the albums Bad and Thriller.
The show has little plot other than a vague chronology of Jackson’s life and musical career. The incredibly cute Ishaan Raithatha plays a young Michael Jackson and leads on ABC and I Want You Back while Florivaldo Mossi does an excellent job of playing the King of Pop at the height of his career. With Mossi’s effortless flair, it’s easy to forget that you are not actually watching MJ himself. In Billie Jean, Mossi takes to the stage alone and dominates the space with his incredible imitation of Jackson’s dancing. The choreography (Gary Lloyd) is incredible throughout the show and particularly notable during Dangerous, Dirty Diana and Smooth Criminal.
For a special two-week run this Christmas, singer Peter Andre also joins the cast. There is great excitement for Andre amongst the crowd and any appearance of his on-stage garners whoops and cheers. Andre did well to keep up with the King of Pop’s signature moves, but his voice is unfortunately not nearly as strong as the other singers. The strongest vocalist is Vivienne Ekwulugo who leads a beautiful rendition of Who’s Loving You.
Haydon Eshun and John Moabi do well to host the show though there is no one person who is particularly good at getting the audience going. Any enthusiasm from the crowd is the result of favourite songs rather than engaging audience participation. During Shake Your Body, the cast attempt to start a sing along but it is far too early in the show for the audience to really be warmed up enough. By the finale, however, the audience are far more receptive.
The set (Johnathan Park) consists of several screens one of which opens at the back of the stage to create an entrance and from behind which the band plays. Two tall light-up staircases sit either side and lead up to a walkway where the cast dance and in Smooth Criminal show off Jackson’s famous anti-gravity lean. There is another large screen that hangs above the stage and displays different images depending on the song. Bursts of light and flashing effects (Nigel Catmur) are also frequently used to enhance crescendo moments.
There are few props, but these are barely necessary as the dancing and lights are engaging enough. During Smooth Criminal and Dirty Diana in the second half, two sofas are wheeled around to add variety to the dancing. There is also some flag waving at the end of Can You Feel It and fake drums to match the banging in They Don’t Care About Us. The costumes (Rob Jones and Catherine Teatum) are suitably Jackson-esque with lots of sparkles and iconic outfits such as the Smooth Criminal white suit and the red Thriller jacket.
Michael Jackson fan or not, it is hard to not find yourself bopping along in your seat or, when encouraged, to stand to your feet and sing along. Though some more information on Jackson’s life would have been appreciated, Thriller Live is an energetic and spectacular tribute to one of the most influential artists who has ever lived.
“Highly recommended for its sparkling script, extraordinary performances and wonderful design”
It’s not even Christmas yet, but if you and your kids are already suffering from a surfeit of seasonal festivities and are looking for something that won’t jingle bells and ho, ho, ho at you, (except in a non-Christmassy way) then hurry along to the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. Here you will find the delightful Oi Frog and Friends! Based on the best selling children’s book by Kes Gray and Jim Field, this fifty five minute entertainment provides all the elements of a good story, presented in a very young child friendly way. So child friendly, in fact, that this reviewer observed at least one infant happily enjoying the action. Kudos to the parents for getting their kids to good theatre at such a young age, and kudos to adaptors Emma Earle, Zoe Squire, Luke Bateman and Richy Hughes for managing such a seamless transition from the page to the stage.
Oi Frog and Friends! is not just entertainment, however. It has some important things to teach about finding one’s place (and sitting still on it) , and all the fun one can have with words while doing it. It’s a simple enough story. At the Sittingbottom School, (ho, ho) the bossy prefect Cat has the rule book about who sits on what—all determined by what rhymes with your name. Easy enough if you are a hare (chair), a fox (box) or a cat (mat). But what if you are an ostrich or a badger? Into this rule bound classroom comes Frog, a new student whose questions (and new rhymes) overturn the established order, much to Cat’s dismay, and the horror of the local media—a guest star turn by Meerkat TV’s Bob Burrows. (There’s a lot of funny punning as well as rhyming in this script, and you get drawn in. Oops).
The audience is enticed into this enchanting world by four actors who manage a breathtaking quantity of performance skills at breakneck speed. With the able direction of Emma Earle, they portray any number of animals using a combination of costumes and puppetry, and of course, sing and dance when appropriate as well. Particularly outstanding are John Winchester as Frog, and Darren Seed as Dog, but really the whole cast is brilliant at the way they leap nimbly between roles, including assisting one another when some nifty bunraku-type puppetry skills are required. Zoe Squire and Yvonne Stone, responsible for design, have come up with inventive creations that flawlessly integrate both actor and puppet into the character they play. Dog’s design is particularly clever in this respect, and it takes a skilled performer to be able to manage all the moving pieces in such a convincing way. Cat, played by Lucy Tuck, is a more conventionally designed character but still demands a lot of athleticism and comic ability. Tuck’s portrayal of a cat who is terrified of losing the last of her nine lives, is both funny and touching. The fourth member of the cast is Simon Yadoo as Cheetah, although he assists with the puppetry and takes on so many roles that it’s easy to lose count of how many times he changes costumes (and puppets). Still, his Carmen Miranda inspired turn as a Cheetah that must sit on a fajita was a big hit with the kids in the audience, and yes, even the big kids otherwise known as their parents.
In short, Oi Frog and Friends! is the perfect show to counter the pre-Christmas blahs, and satisfy the kid in all of us. Highly recommended for its sparkling script, extraordinary performances and wonderful design. It’s a rhyming good time! O.K. O.K—I’ll show myself out.