Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 6th March, 2018
This electrifying tribute show is doing the rounds and this week it’s Coventry’s turn to become reacquainted with the back catalogue of the ‘King of Pop’, Michael Jackson. We have several vocalists and a troupe of dancers performing hit after hit, but the songs are broken up by occasional verbal addresses during which facts and figures are rattled off: in this year, he sold this many copies… and so on. Nothing controversial is alluded to. Biographical detail is little more than dates of changing record companies and the release of iconic albums. All this is relayed to us by two of the male vocalists, Britt Quintin (who has Jackson’s spindly physique) and Shaquille Hemmans (who has Jackson’s falsetto to a T). It’s a bit like a Show and Tell session in school. If so, they’d get top marks for effort.
The first half concentrates on Jackson’s early career, including boyhood hits – these are performed in the main by female vocalists Adriana Louise and Ina Seidou – and it’s a nostalgia trip and a half. I’ll Be There, I Want You Back, ABC – and disco greats like Can You Feel It and Blame It On The Boogie. The choreography takes us back to the bygone eras of the 60s and 70s and the costumes are spectacularly in keeping, rocketing us back to the golden age of Top of the Pops and Pan’s People.
There is a bit that makes me cringe at first when our hosts Britt and Shaquille divide the audience in two and teach us responses, and it gets a bit panto, but we all get into the spirit of it. We are pumped and ready to boogie, but instead the number ends, we are plunged into a blackout during which we fumble for our seats, and what follows is a big production number of Remember The Time, which is from Jackson’s later output. I am ready to bop but am forced to wait until later. This odd change of gear aside, the production is irresistible. By the way, the ‘Egyptian’ choreography for Remember The Time is superb.
Rory Taylor’s searing She’s Out of My Life is a highlight, but the hits and highlights keep coming. The second half gives us all the biggies: Billie Jean (Eddy Lima, the most Jacksonesque of the performers – like an MJ who has done some serious gym time) thrills with the effortless moonwalking – all of Jackson’s signature moves are here: the broken robot, the crotch-grabbing (although this is used sparingly); Smooth Criminal is gobsmackingly staged; but Thriller is the one we’re waiting for, and it does not disappoint. Dancers in zombie garb totter through the audience, gathering to perform the iconic routine. (Quick trip to Pedants’ Corner: the tropes mentioned in the lyrics belong to the Horror genre, not strictly speaking Thrillers… but what do I know? Perhaps “This is Horror, Horror Night” doesn’t work as well…) Earth Song is the most emotive number of the night and by the time we get to Black Or White the entire place is ‘getting down’. The music is played live by a tight ensemble, led by Andy Jeffcoat on the keyboard, with an authentic sound that comes across as fresh and contemporary.
There is a more interesting show, dramatically speaking, yet to be written about Jackson’s phenomenal, troubled life, but this exhilarating act of worship is just the tonic for a chilly evening in Coventry – or anywhere else, for that matter.