Sources: WAToday -By John Bailey | All Things Michael
At a recent performance of Thriller Live in Adelaide, barely 20 minutes had passed before old Lionel in the front row was compelled to get up and dance. The rake-thin man – who must have been in his 70s or 80s – pulled on his glittering gold jacket and made a spectacle of himself before an audience of thousands. The crowd may have been surprised, but the cast are used to this kind of spontaneous interaction. There are fans, and then there are Michael Jackson fans.
“They will hunt anything about Michael Jackson down,” says singer Prinnie Stevens. “That’s what Michael Jackson did. He attracted fanatical fans.”
Stevens is one of a sizeable array of singers who bring Jackson’s music to life across the show, and while none are direct impersonations, each seems to embody one aspect of his public image.
“You couldn’t have one person capturing the true essence of the man himself,” says fellow performer Sean Christopher. “It wouldn’t be possible. We’d love to give it a try, each and every one of us, but I don’t think we have that kind of power. It takes a collective of us coming together.”
Christopher himself plays the “vision” of Jackson – the white-suited Smooth Criminal, the “moonwalker that literally floats through the show.” Stevens’ role (which she shares with American singer Samantha Johnson) is an embodiment of the sensual side of Jackson’s music. Others bring to life the soulful MJ, or the funky Off The Wall-era Michael, or his more abrasive rock edge.
“When the producers work with you they see what part of Michael you are,” says Stevens. “They really tap into that. Every person that plays a role will tap into a different segment of Michael.”
Thriller Live has played across the globe, and while the fans may be a constant wherever it plays, the show itself transforms to meet the expectations of its destination. The track Earth Song has been added for the production’s debut in Australia, for instance, since it was a hit with fans here, but is absent in other countries where it didn’t fare so well. Aural smoothie Human Nature is an omission everywhere but Brazil, where it went down nicely on original release.
For Stevens, it was important that the work was originally created while its subject was still alive. “The guy who wrote the musical was friends with Michael and was actually the head of one of the fan groups. He spoke to Michael and ran everything past him. The thing I loved when I was asked to do it is that it was created innocently on just the pure love of Michael. When he passed away obviously ticket sales went up but I loved that it didn’t capitalise on his passing.”
It’s wrong to go into Thriller Live expecting an objective biography of Michael Jackson. Rather, it’s a biography of his music, and over the course of the show that music develops as much depth as any more conventional stage character. It’s a triumph of sound production that works as a powerful reminder of the sophistication and innovation of many of Jackson’s hits. It also highlights the way Jackson mastered the non-verbal potential of the voice, his trills and clicks and growls providing their own form of percussion.
“It’s all that gritty stuff, but that’s what made Michael,” says Stevens. “The musical director always sends us the a cappellas without any music, because when the music is playing a lot of the times he’s doing a kkk-kkk-ka-ka and he’s doing it at the same time as a drum or whatever. That’s how he gets those rhythms that set him apart from everybody else.”
As the portrait of a musical career develops, however, the figure behind it only becomes more cryptic. “He was such an enigma,” says Christopher. “But you could go to the most remote part the world and ask who the president of America is and they’ve wouldn’t have an idea who you’re talking about. But if you ask who Michael Jackson is they’ll do the moonwalk for you.”
Thriller Live plays the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne from January 28.
Read more here