I was lucky enough to see Michael Jackson perform at Wembley in 1988 and it remains the best £30 I have ever spent – I kept the ticket! Whatever you may think of Michael Jackson the person, Michael Jackson the performer was one of the greatest – if not the greatest – entertainers of all time. His songs are now classics and continue to sell in their millions, plus his dancing was just indescribable – it really had to be seen to be believed. Michael Jackson was so fast, so precise and so innovative that it seemed that you were watching something a little bit unreal. The best example of this is, of course, his “Moonwalk”, where he literally appears to be walking forwards but is actually moving backwards. As John Peel, the respected music critic wrote of the show: “I do not expect it to be equalled in my lifetime”. (The ‘Observer’, 17/7/88). I also doubt that I will see anything better than “Bad” – ever.
So it was with some trepidation that I went to see “Thriller” at the Lyric Theatre in the West End. Sensibly, the Show does not provide any type of story or narrative, it simply gives the audience exactly what they came to see: the songs and dance of Michael Jackson. It is roughly in chronological order, especially at the beginning, starting out with the Jackson Five – and an excellent Owen Mugawa playing the young Michael – through to “Thriller” and “Invincible”. Like the Michael Jackson Show at Wembley, “Thriller” is less a sequence of songs than a series of “scenes” – often with numbers being expertly worked together. Each “scene” would also display a variety of the amazing costumes associated with the songs in that “scene” (often taken from the music videos). Finally the performance was supported with an excellent, if somewhat small, live band.
The singers in the Show, fronted by Zoe Birkett, were tremendous and very hard working. (I can tell the difference between a good and a bad singer, but cannot really distinguish, except in rare cases, between a good and a great singer…). I knew that Zoe Birkett was a good singer from the various Shows I have seen her perform in. What did surprise me, however, is that Zoe is also quite a decent dancer. She certainly did not look out of place against the professional dancers supporting her. And throughout the Show, Zoe brought a huge amount of sparkle and enthusiasm to the numbers she performed.
In a top West End Show such as “Thriller”, which is in its 11th year, the dancers have to be first-class or they will not be in the Show long. The dancers were indeed excellent. None of them can actually dance with the genius of Michael Jackson (the only person who I have seen “Moonwalk” like Jackson was Jeffrey Daniels from Shalamar) – but no one would realistically expect that. Although not listed in the programme I recognized one of the dancers as Lauren Gore. Lauren is one of the best female tap dancers in the Country and although there is no tap required in “Thriller”, it was great to watch a top class dancer really enjoying herself. (Lauren was an original member of the amazing “TapCorps”). Take a look at TapCorps!
The other dancer that really impressed me was Austyn Farrell. I had heard about Austyn from his student days at the Leicester College of Performing Arts (LCPA), where he combined a lot of potential with even more character. This really comes across on the stage. He is incredibly expressive and I think Austyn would have been very happy to stay in the limelight for another hour or so! My favourite “Scene” of the evening, which began with “On the Floor” saw both Lauren and Austyn wearing Dincwear – style costumes, Lauren displaying a Kylie-type tunic with Austyn in a sparkling ‘muscle-back’ top.
It all added up to a tremendous evening of entertainment and received a standing ovation from the very full and enthusiastic audience. My only criticism of the show (apart from a gin and tonic costing £10 at the bar!) is that right from the beginning the cast gets the crowd involved in clapping along. Now I am a boy who simply cannot multi-task. I can either clap along (and concentrate on getting that right) or I can watch the show. For some of us, it is impossible to do both! And for that, I received a frown from the multi-talented Miss Birkett!
The Students of the LCPA, all wearing our Dincwear clothing, will be looking to follow their alumni Austyn into the West End.”
16th April 2014 The Dincwear Team.