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Thriller Live is a two-and-a-half-hour concert celebrating the music of The Jackson 5 and the solo work of Michael Jackson. It had already been performed in the United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, and Scandinavia before opening at the Lyric Theatre, London on 2 January 2009. The show was conceived by Jackson family friend and author, Adrian Grant.
In August 2006, Thriller – Live was previewed in the UK, at the Dominion Theatre. At the time, Adrian Grant spoke of why he came up with the concept and the prospect of taking it to the West End. He started a British fan club in 1988, and then Jackson invited him out to Los Angeles when he was recording Dangerous. Within a few years the fan club had grown to 25,000 subscribed members. This led to an annual Michael Jackson tribute show from 1991, the tenth anniversary event was attended by Jackson himself. A single tribute show attracted anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 people. Grant also wrote three books, including Michael Jackson – The Visual Documentary which was approved by the singer. Jackson was never involved with the production of Thriller – Live, but wished Grant luck with the production.
In 2007, Adrian Grant, backed by Flying Music began production for a UK Tour of Thriller – Live. The show was originally directed and choreographed by Kerys Nathan and with additional choreography by LaVelle Smith Jnr. The first UK tour featured the talents of Shaheen Jafargholi depicting the young Michael in the Jackson 5. The adult singers included Pop Idol star Zoe Birkett and Filipino-Australian vocalist Mig Ayesa. The show played a successful set of dates throughout May–June 2007 and later that year a European tour.
Production for the West End version began in 2008, when open auditions were held to find a young actor to play Jackson. Ultimately six people would play the singer, going through the various stages of his career, with a total cast of 21 individuals—including Denise Pearson. Choreography was handled by director Gary Lloyd, who has previously worked with artists including Leona Lewis, Will Young, Robbie Williams and Girls Aloud and five time MTV award-winner LaVelle Smith Jnr. The West End premiere was on 21 January 2009, at the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. Tito Jackson, Lucy Pinder, Vanessa Feltz, Nicholas Hoult, Ciara Janson and Jessica Taylor attended the premiere. La Toya Jackson attended the after show party, following her departure from Celebrity Big Brother. Thriller – Live was originally supposed to run until 16 May 2009, but this date has been extended several times following wide public interest, especially after the death of Michael Jackson on the 25th June 2009. In September 2014, it became the 20th longest-running musical in West End.
Thriller – Live played in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands, Grand Theater, from 3 May 2011 to 15 May 2011.
Karen Fricker of Variety expressed the opinion that the musical had "remarkably high production value" but was too long. Fricker continued, "Jackson's hits sung by four strong-voiced, charismatic leads, backed by a crackerjack team of singer-dancers—is effective and entertaining". Sanjoy Roy of The Guardian observed, "It's cute, kicking and retro, but also highlights a danger that looms large in this show: that even as a tot, Jackson was supremely gifted performer—both as a singer and a dancer—and this tribute, however well intended, inevitably pales by comparison." Paul Vale of The Stage stated, "Those looking for history of Jackson's personal life should look elsewhere as this theatrical extravaganza is a breathtaking celebration of a musician whose work spans over three decades... Jonathan Park's set design and Nigel Catmur's lighting are complimented [sic] by LED screens creating some wonderful theatrical set pieces that are simple and yet remarkably effective". Benedict Nightingale of The Times said of one performer, "What [he] lacks in physical similarity to Jackson he also lacks vocally. The coarse, sandy qualities of his voice are as suited to "Rock with You" as custard is on a steak".
Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph commented, "Gary Lloyd, who doubles as director and choreographer, keeps the energy level at fever pitch almost throughout, and his dance routines, featuring daring leaps from an on-stage bridge, break-dancing, and, yes, the moonwalk, are spectacular. There is also a terrific band, ranging with aplomb from funk, soul and disco, through candy-rush pop to guitar-led rock". Malcolm Jack of The Scotsman noted that, "Some of Jackson's best numbers - "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough", "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "Beat It" - were treated rather underwhelmingly, but the faithful(ish) to the video centrepieces - "Smooth Criminal", "Billie Jean" and "Thriller" - were fairly spectacular".
Amber Windsor of This Is Local London said of her experience at one show, "The signature high-pitched yee hee' echoed from the foyer and it was endearing to see a young boy recreating Michael's signature moonwalk, proving Jackson's music still appeals to all ages...The stage was vibrantly brought to life by the dancers, easily the strongest element of Thriller Live. Their endless energy and clear passion for the music reflected Jackson's own style". Mel Bradley of Dinnington Guardian recalled his enthusiasm and enjoyment while observing the musical, despite not being an "ardent fan of the king of pop". Julie Carpenter of Daily Express stated, "...this is a hugely enjoyable, gloriously upbeat, high-energy show which leaves you chanting Annie, are you OK? Are you OK, Annie? as you slip out the door".
Fiona Mountford of the Daily Mail noted that the script could have been written on "two pages of A4", but described the dancers as "astoundingly agile" and the show a "slick package".
On June 21, 2010, six performers in the London cast released Speechless as a single, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Jackson's death. All proceeds from the recording were donated to the charity War Child.
Performances in Brazil featured "Human Nature" after "I Just Can't Stop Loving You"
The international tour sometimes replaces "Get on the floor" with "Never Can Say Goodbye".
London West end 2015
Lead Vocalist: Haydon Eshun, Trenyce Cobbins, David Jordan, Tyrone Lee, Rory Taylor
Lead Vocalist Cover: Britt Quentin, Brittney Woodland
Resident Director: Britt Quentin
Swing & Dance Captain: Lauren Gore
Swing, Assistant Dance Captain: Stefan Sinclair
MJ cover: Stefan Sinclair, Dak Mashava
Dancer: Dak Mashava, Lindon Barr, Daniel Bradford, Renata Carvalho, Jessica Craft, Christopher 'Ribz' Gordon, Jordan Palmer, Christian Sharrier
Swing: Myron Birch, Jayde Nelson
Lead Vocalist: Zuriel Kabasomi-Williams, Kyle Johnson, Daniel Odejinmi, Ramon Mariqueo Smith