Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.
Former child star Cleopatra Higgins glitters as she joins the West End cast of Thriller Live.
Taking a lead role in ‘‘Thriller Live’’ is a big ask for any performer. Michael Jackson’s incredible vocal range and the breadth of his singing styles are hard enough to emulate. But add in some of the best, fastest and most distinctive dance moves ever created and it’s clear that no one – except Michael Jackson himself – could ever fully do them justice.
But the show very sensibly shares out the performing duties among five lead singers – including a woman – who can all dance, and each of whom uses their particular vocal strengths to deliver all the songs the audience of devotees is expecting.
Cleo Higgins now joins the London cast. Remembered by some from 90s R&B band Cleopatra (who had a hit with I Want You Back), she was also a semi-finalist in last year’s The Voice, mentored by will.i.am.
She is sensational on stage, with snake-like moves and a powerful voice that’s nuanced enough to capture the intensity and emotion of the numbers.
The falsetto of John Moabi is the lynchpin of the vocal team, floating effortlessly through some of the toughest vocal challenges, and he duets beautifully with Cleo in I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.
Old-school Jackson fans are also treated to an all-too-brief Jackson 5 performance to open the show, with young Michael played and sung with great aplomb by Kyle Johnson.
Vocal gymnastics aside, the dancers in a show like ‘‘Thriller Live’’ simply have to be at the top of their game. And this must surely be one of the tightest dance teams in the West End at the moment, on stage for much of the two-hours-plus show and doing full justice to the routines that everyone expects to be faithfully reproduced from the videos, as well as choreography designed for this show by director Gary Lloyd.
There’s extra-special energy from mesmerising Jordan Darrell, whose acrobatic dance feats defy gravity, and Leah Hill uses her sporting background to great effect, looking as if she has springs in her dance shoes.
Taking on the challenge of directly imitating the master, David Jordan tips his hat, spins and gyrates effortlessly to all the classic Jackson moves in Smooth Criminal and Billie Jean.
The music is all played live by John Maher and his pin-sharp band, modestly hidden for most of the show. Maher worked on these arrangements back in 2007, and it’s a tribute to his skill that the sound created by Jackson and collaborators like the incomparable Quincy Jones is here reproduced so faithfully.
‘‘Thriller Live’’, as conceived by Adrian Grant, makes no attempt to string a narrative out of Jackson’s career. All the fans want is to hear the songs and see the dances – and in this show, still going strong, that’s exactly what they get.
First published June 2014, whatsonstage.com