Sources: The New Zealand Herald – Catherine Smith| All Things Michael
Seeing the live stage celebration of Michael Jackson’s life and work is absolutely thrilling, discovers Catherine Smith.
I’ll declare up front: I have never been a huge Michael Jackson fan. I’ve never had an encyclopaedic recall of every song/album/video, never worshipped at the Altar of Michael. Sure, I sang along in the playground to his first solo hit Ben (sweetly, recorded just before his voice broke in 1971, released in 1972). I’m pretty sure I bopped along to Off the Wall tracks, and I do remember the impact of Thriller.
But I wasn’t until I spent more than two hours on my feet dancing, singing and raging like I was 18 again at Thriller Live, that I realised that this man had created the soundtrack to my life. There was even, I confess, a teeny tear or two. Say what you like about the monkeys and the sleepovers, Jackson was an extraordinary artist, unmatched by many others.
Thriller Live is billed as a concert production that celebrates Jackson – it is not a tribute show, although one performer does remarkably resemble the king of pop, it is not a musical with “the rise of” yarn in the way of Buddy, or The Jersey Boys.
Adrian Grant, who developed the original concept for the show as an off-shoot of his annual Michael Jackson Celebration he began for UK fans in 1991, has documented the history of this entertainer with an ensemble of five singers and 10 dancers.
After getting Jackson’s nod in 2001, Grant developed the show into a proper spectacular. It previewed in 2005, went on a UK tour in 2007, and hit the West End. Like Jackson’s artistic legacy, Grant’s collaboration with director/choreographer Gary Lloyd and musical director John Maher is now one for the record books: the 20th longest running West End show, touring shows have played in more than 28 countries (significantly, not the United States, for copyright reasons) to audiences of more than three million people.
Michael endorsed an early version of the show, his brothers have all loved it.
Grant could well be the uber-fan boy. He met Jackson a number of times at Neverland and accompanied him on visits to children’s hospitals – and one of the joys of the show is the obvious love and admiration cast and directors have for him and his work.
Maher put the first show together in 2007 and is still touring with the production in Australia and New Zealand eight years later. The former school choir singer who played Riff Raff with Richard O’Brien in a 1986 production of Rocky Horror Showhad been an actor, been in a rock band, and still likes to do a bit of cabaret. He points out that this is not the sort of show where you do bold, new arrangements or re-invent someone’s work as an outsider.
“I had to study what makes [his music] tick, how to capture that. I had to study it like a forensic scientist. He was at the forefront of recording – the first big artist to use keyboard base, his rhythmic detail is phenomenal.
When you listen to his a capella recordings as a kid in the studio, the groove is so heavy, and that voice, his phrasing. I can’t think of a singer who sang more rhythmically,” he says.
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