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Thriller Live

Updated: Feb 26, 2020

Director/choreographer Gary Lloyd

The Flying Music Company

Palace Theatre, Manchester;

10 February 2020 - 15 February 2020, 2hr 30min

Also at Liverpool Empire, 8 July - 11 July 2020

King of Pop: David Julien performs Michael Jackson classics in Thriller Live at the Palace Theatre Manchester.
King of Pop: David Julien performs Michael Jackson classics in Thriller Live at the Palace Theatre Manchester.

My elder son learned to breakdance to Michael Jackson in a state primary school playground in South Louisiana. He had the black fedora and all the moves. He can probably still moonwalk.

I took him and his brother to see Jackson at Roundhay Park in Leeds in 1988. It was the perfect first pop concert; a stunning show, and we all had a wonderful day.

But that was before the stories emerged of those children whose experience of Michael Jackson was very different.

For this show, I thought about taking my 13-year-old theatre buddy; in the end I decided not to. The non-musical Jackson legacy was too big a presence to ignore.

The show positions itself as a “nonstop playlist” celebrating “the greatest music ever written”. It’s not a musical because there’s no story and no thread between the songs other than a loose chronology. By using multiple singers, including a female soloist, it distances itself from the conventional tribute concert.

But… there is still a giant photograph of Jackson at one point – albeit late on in the show. There’s the excellent Kieran Alleyne, who dances and sings as Jackson throughout. Man in the Mirror is positioned as part of a “heal the world” song group – no hint of irony as they sing “I’m asking him to change his ways”.

So was it possible to set all this aside and just enjoy the music? For this ageing pop fan, without a child in tow and with all the caveats above, yes it was. It’s almost part of my generation’s DNA.

The vocals were cleverly arranged to achieve a studio-mix sound complete with all the classic Jackson tics. The dancing was tight, energetic and nodded just enough to its time. The six-piece band, under the musical direction of Steve White, worked hardest of all, creating an exciting depth of sound that had the half-full house behaving as if it was packed to the rafters.

The old numbers stand up remarkably well and there’s no denying the biggest hits. There was moonwalking, the Smooth Criminal lean, the single, sparkly glove, spats, crotch-clutching, fedoras and iconic jackets - and the memory of every disco, nightclub and wedding you’ve ever been to.

West End cast member David Julien joined the Manchester tour crew for one week only; born in Tyldesley and an alumnus of Winstanley College in Wigan, he persuaded the producers to let him play his home crowd. A finalist in the first series of BBC TV’s The Voice, he did justice to his solos, although it has to be said he diction wasn’t quite as clear as fellow vocalists Britt Quentin, Joseph Thomas and Adriana Louise – that Manc accent fighting its way out, perhaps?

@ThrillerLive @PalaceAndOpera @flyingmusicnews #KingofPop

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