Brighton Year-Round 2020
Directed and choreographed by Gary Lloyd with music arranged and supervised by John Maher (additional arrangements Jerry Mehan and Mike Stobbie, with Accie Yeats, Simon Forsythe, Damien Cooper programming instrumentals), it’s designed by Jonathan Park, lit by Nigel Catmur with Sound Design by Chris Whybrow. Costume Supervision is from Shooting Flowers. Associate Choreographers Yasmin Yazdi and Jo Dyce. Adrian Grant is the original and Associate Producer.
The Band comprises Tom Arnold Assistant Director on Percussion and Keys 3, Johnny Copland Bass, Ben Cullingworth Drums, Rob Minns Keys/Guitar 2, Allan Salmon Guitar 1. MD is Steve White on Keys 1.
Rob Summers, Josh Podbury, Dean Croney are offstage Sound, Rebekah Bridges Lighting and Video Tech (Video Supervisor Glenn Jenkins, Rig Neil Andrew Petit), Emma Stillman Wardrobe assisted by Hope Vivins and Megan Reid on Wigs with Paul Watts Company manager Mark Wheatley Technical Manager and Jessica Forella DSM and Laura Beacham ASM. Till January 11th and touring.
When Michael Jackson’s Thriller hit the instant No. 1 slot in late 1982 it defined him as the greatest rock star since Presley, and defined his separation from his family group the Jackson 5. They went on together for some years, reuniting on specials, but this established Michael as more than a star in his own right.
This homage builds Thriller Live around his 1982 album whose centripetal force drags in Jackson 5 standards and much that came after like the albums Bad (1987) Dangerous (1991) and HIStory in 1995.
Thriller Live Explodes on the stage. Hits in roughly chronological order leap from the seven vocalists and band backstage who get a reveal twice – and Guitar 1 Allan Salmon give s a dazzling solo out front towards the end of the show.
From the start this simple set is all that’s necessary. A gantry design with stairs and mini-stages halfway down by Jonathan Park, is flung over a backstage screen featuring mostly images like a hyper-active lava-lamp. It’s lit by Nigel Catmur with spotlighting white patches a feature and the rainbow gamut of primaries you’d expect.
It’s directed and choreographed by Gary Lloyd with music arranged and supervised by John Maher. Sound Design by Chris Whybrow isn’t as intrusive as some, ensuring we hear the music and singers not hit by waves of bass.
Brit Quentin leads the magnificent seven vocalists and looks the Michael Jackson part with a spectacular array of vocalising dancing and ultimately moonwalking. But the MJ part isn’t confined to him. There’s Jason Brock – who gets a solo in ‘She’s Out of My Life’ halfway through the first half attests to a high-kicking tenor range, as well as Kieran Alleyne who with Jospeh Thomas also takes commentary parts. Adriana Louise take most of the female leads – again a powerful individual voice. Ceante Harris and Shaquille Hemmans enjoy solo spots too. The micing’s good enough to be able to differentiate their voices.
And the songs. Jackson 5 provide some of the early hits like ‘Don’t Stop’ an ‘Billie Jean’ and it’s striking Michael Jackson was involved so early writing true hits. Two subsequent hits ‘Blame It On the Boogie’ and ‘Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)’ usher in a series of so-so hits, where the reggae and other beats turn less insistent and the torch element burns lower than it was to blaze again. There’s a chronological mix-up so ‘Dangerous’ turns up and proves the kitsch ‘Devil-Woman’ Cliff Richard brought out much earlier is actually more memorable if more misogynistic.
There’s some rousing numbers though at the end of Act I ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You get enough’ and ‘Can you Feel It’ both written by Jackson, where the bass is appropriately turned up so you start feeling it through your feet.
Act II is where we discover some unexpected gems, and after the opening numbers ‘Wanna be Starting Something’ and ‘Working Day and Night’ again both Jackson-penned (nearly all here are), there’s a roller-coaster till with a sharp tender shock we’re into superb melodic territory, with mesmerising instrumental intros, beautifully orchestrated here. So ‘They Don’t Care Abut Us’ and particularly ‘Earth Song’ are pieces I’ve never even heard yet prove Jackson’s compositional gift didn’t desert him. It presages a faux-ending and then keeps coming back with faux-endings reprises including ‘Billie jean’ ‘Thriller’ itself, ‘Bad’ ‘Black or White’ and ‘Smooth Criminal/Thriller’ as reprise.
The wonderful band comprises Tom Arnold Assistant Director on Percussion and Keys 3, Johnny Copland Bass, Ben Cullingworth Drums, Rob Minns Keys/Guitar 2, Allan Salmon Guitar 1. MD is Steve White on Keys 1. They delight in being revealed behind the video projections and the audience reserve a special cheer for them as they do for the vocalists.
The dancers fully deserve mention too. Tony Ben Azouz and Ondrea Kitching as swing, Molly Francis, Danyul Fullard (also vocal cover), Joshua De La-Garde, Natorii Illidge, Ryan Josiah, Kia Pantazis, Eva Philips, Rhianna Richards, Nicola De Souza, Jordan Jules-Stock.
This series of faux-farewells not only neatly keeps the audience attuned it necessarily terraces the curtain-calls. There’s no narrative dramatized, simply related, and it’s good to hear it, though it’s inevitably a bland doxology of praise, officially approved. It might have been good to hear a little more of Jackson’s purely musical struggle, a few highs and a low or two since he resoundingly wins as musician and star. How he discovered how to moonwalk for example.
This is however musically and theatrically beyond reproach and a literally thrilling two-plus hours with interval.