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Published: 13 February 2009
Slick moonwalking, but zombie writing’s no thriller

Lyric Theatre

OF the million or so Michael Jackson impersonators who have blessed this earth, couldn’t the producers of Thriller Live find one who could sing, dance, and look like MJ at the same time?
Their search needn’t have taken them further than Covent Garden, which has played host to a bunch of Jackson mimics in past years.
It’s not that Thriller Live has a lack of talent. The dancers were impressive – there was the Smooth Criminal “lean”, the Thriller zombie dance and some slick moonwalking – it’s just the hardworking singers were largely in the wrong musical.
There was Young MJ, cute, fancy footwork and doubling up as the Macaulay Culkin rapper in Black or White; Bald MJ, who looked like he should have been in a Hot Chocolate musical; Gentle Soul Giant MJ, who ought to have been in a Luther Vandross tribute band; Ten-years-too-old-to-be-in-a boyband MJ – whose Westlife-like faux emotion in Man in the Mirror and Beat It verged on the absurd; and Diva MJ, the fantastic ex-Five Star member Denise Pearson, the only one of the bunch who sounded just like him, looked like she could have been his sister, and had mastered the MJ gasps.
The gifted but slightly clunky former Jackson backing dancer Ricko Baird was brought on for the post-1980s section, when the moves required more technical skills. But Michael was slick, sharp, and a perfectionist, and no matter how hard these people try, they will always look limp in his shadow.
There’s so much material in Michael’s twisted fairytale of a life – child star, abuse, Neverland, Bubbles, humiliating fall from grace – but instead of any kind of narrative, the stunning set pieces are punctuated with a sycophantic PowerPoint presentations such as “in the year X, Michael Jackson sold millions of records, catapulting him into the stratosphere and making him not only the undisputed king of pop but also the saviour of mankind”.
Over and over again, we are drowned in statistics, all ending with a sickly tribute to beloved King Michael.
It picked up in the second half, as the more memorable routines were revived, but fell into a depressing lull during Earth Song and Heal the World – yes, everyone wore white – which could only have been saved by Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker repeating his water-throwing Brit awards stunt from 1996.
There was a real feeling of pity for the hardworking cast, who were all great at what they do – particularly Pearson – but were sadly let down by the lazy writing.
Until April 12

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