Celebrating the magic of Michael Jackson
- Credit: supplied by Norwich Theatre Royal
Thriller Live has travelled the world celebrating the music of Michael Jackson, and this month the spectacle paying tribute to the King of Pop is heading to East Anglia. Arts correspondent Emma Knights finds out more.
From Bad to Thriller to Billie Jean, Michael Jackson rocked the world with hit after hit during his phenomenal music career spanning 45 years.
From pop to rock and soul to disco, the legendary performer wowed his army of fans with his amazing videos, spectacular performances, and innovative dance moves including his famous moonwalk.
And for more than seven years now the show Thriller Live has paid homage to the King of Pop with a concert style audio-visual extravaganza packed full of the best of Michael Jackson, from his time as part of The Jackson 5 to his greatest hits as a solo superstar.
Since first opening at the Lyric Theatre in London's West End in 2009, the show has become a huge success worldwide, chalking up more than 5,100 performances in 32 countries and performing to a global audience of more than four million.
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The London production is now named among some of the longest-running shows in the West End, meanwhile a Thriller Live tour is currently taking the West End out on the road and will be stopping at Norwich Theatre Royal from February 13 to 18.
It will be the third time Thriller Live has graced the city theatre's stage, having previously entertained audiences in 2008 and 2014, and among the Norwich cast this time will be resident director and lead vocalist Britt Quentin.
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He has been part of Thriller Live for seven years, both in the West End and abroad, and is one of four singers - three men and one woman - who take the lead in this latest tour.
'I'm sort of the MC character. I do a lot of the disco section and some of the more softer ballads,' said Britt, who is originally from Detroit, Michigan, and was previously the artistic director for the Los Angeles-based vocal group M-Pact for 12 years. His career has also seen him share the stage with artists including Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, Lionel Richie, Natalie Cole, Herbie Hancock and Kenny G.
When asked why he loves being part of Thriller Live, he said: 'First and foremost probably the music itself. I'm a Michael Jackson fan so I enjoy being able to sing his music so much, and second of all, he was such an icon worldwide, and just to see the joy on people's faces and the reaction to his music is quite satisfying. I enjoy the experience the show gives people and watching how they go back in time remembering his music...It's a privilege to be part of the show.'
To date Britt has enjoyed appearing in more than 2,300 Thriller Live performances, but he admits it can still be daunting living up to the legend of Michael Jackson, especially because many fans watching the show have encyclopedic knowledge of all the superstar's music and moves.
'They know every lyric, every song, they are watching your every move, a lot of them come dressed in their favourite Michael Jackson costume. It puts a lot of pressure on you...when an artist is so monumental people want to see his songs exactly the way they remember them,' he said.
Among the many songs that feature in the show are ABC, Off The Wall, Smooth Criminal, Beat It, Billie Jean, Dirty Diana, Bad, Rock With You and, of course, Thriller.
'People can expect a lot of the big hits and then some. Obviously we cannot do every song, his back catalogue is massive, but they can expect to see his big iconic hits and a lot of energy.
Everybody in the show is a fan so when we hit that stage in front of an audience hopefully that love for his music and his songs, hopefully that shines through,' Britt said, adding that the show has changed over time.
'It has evolved quite a bit because his repertoire is so vast. Oftentimes because people come back and see the show over and over again, and because we can change the show, we often will add a song and take something out. The most recent change to date, we brought back Remember the Time. It used to be in the show in the original cast in the West End then it left the show for about five years. Earth Song also left the show for quite a number of years, and also we've added Human Nature. It hasn't been in the show before.'
When asked if he had a favourite song he performs, he said: 'It changes because I have been in the show for so many years now. It depends, you have different songs for different reasons depending on where you are in your life. Right now it's Get on the Floor. It wasn't a big hit for Michael but it was on one of his breakthrough solo albums – Off the Wall. It opens the big disco songs.'
And what are Britt's thoughts on why Michael Jackson's music made him such a worldwide superstar across the generations?
'I think it is because for whatever reason Michael Jackson was able to touch people regardless of your age, regardless of your gender, regardless of your social background, regardless of your ethnicity, regardless of your culture...and very few people are able to do that. That is why he's such a worldwide phenomenon, because he was able to do that. His music spoke to everyone.'
Thriller Live is at Norwich Theatre Royal from Monday, February 13 to Saturday, February 18. Tickets £8-£32.50.
There is also a Thriller Live after party on Saturday, February 18 with a Best Ghoulish Fancy Dress competition.
For more information and to book tickets, call the box office on 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
For details of the West End production of Thriller Live at the Lyric Theatre www.thrillerlive.com
THE MAN BEHIND THE SHOW
Adrian Grant, creator and executive director of Thriller Live, personally knew Michael Jackson over a 20-year period. He was the first UK journalist to interview him at his Neverland mansion and he was invited back there by Michael several times over the years to witness him in the studio recording some of his most iconic albums.
• How would you describe the show?
'Thriller Live is the ultimate celebration of Michael Jackson's music. We don't tell the story of Michael's life, but we celebrate the King of Pop via two-hours of song and dance.'
• What was it like meeting Michael Jackson in person?
'I first met him in 1990 and didn't have any preconceptions of what he would be like. But from the moment I did meet him he was kind, funny and had a big smile.
He was very talkative about many different subjects. But mainly he liked to have a laugh and joke around. That's not to say he wasn't ever serious because he was an absolute genius in the recording studio and when performing.'
• What do you think is Michael Jackson's musical legacy?
'There will never be another Michael Jackson. The music industry has changed and is far more instant than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. Michael grew up during the Motown era, and worked hard with his brothers touring and perfecting their craft.
Furthermore he learnt from greats such as Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Jackie Wilson and James Brown. He always said he would 'study the greats and aim to become better!'
You may find an individual who can sing better, or dance better – but what made Michael the King of Pop was that he did everything, and he did it so very well and with his own style.
As a songwriter he was sometimes under-rated – but look at hits such as Billie Jean, Wanna Be Startin Somethin, Earth Song and Don't Stop Til' You Get Enough – pure pop classics.
As a singer he had an incredible four-octave range, and as a dancer he created breakthrough videos such as Beat It and 'Thriller, and was complimented by none other than Fred Astaire.'
• What is your favourite Michael Jackson song?
'There are too many to name just one. Many of them are in the Thriller Live show which is just over two hours long, but because Michael had so many great songs the show could easily have been five hours long... My favourite section of the show though is from the Off The Wall album with songs like Rock With You and Don't Stop Til' You Get Enough.'