Thriller Live, Lyric Theatre, London

Michael Coveney
Monday 26 January 2009 01:00 GMT

Is it a musical? Is it just a juke-box compilation show? Do we expect narrative complexity in our new musical theatre? Is there a life for pop music within the proscenium arch beyond Mamma Mia!? Or shall we resort to revivals of Sondheim and hope for the best from Andrew Lloyd Webber?

All of these thoughts go racing through your mind – well, actually, they don't – when sitting through this immensely enjoyable compilation of the Michael Jackson catalogue. Somehow Jackson, and his sibling quintet, passed me by, as they happened, but now I'm suddenly all grooved up on the Jackson Five and the high points of Michael's best-selling discs.

This is great stuff. It makes you want to move around in your seat. I did do that and nearly got arrested for moving around in the seat right next to me. Not my fault. We had to get up and get down in an audience participation re-tread of "Shake Your Body", and some of us did.

Others resisted. One irate critic even berated the great Tito Jackson (the bass player) for turning up late at his own show. What else was he supposed to do? We thought Janet might show, but she didn't. We made do instead with a whole host of television celebs, Vanessa Feltz as well as Girls Aloud and actors from Hollyoaks. And then we all had to join in a number called "Get On the Floor". Enough said.

It's a shame that Gary Lloyd's production has no theatrical justification whatsoever, but the presentation is so enjoyably theatrical that the objection disintegrates. There's a wonderful catalogue of late Motown, blues and early indie rock that covers a whole era of pop music at its best.

It's all laid down with tremendous funk and fusion of lights, sound and dance moves. The onstage musicians under John Maher supply great backing for the company numbers and the fantastic solo contributions of Ricko Baird as the "Thriller" doppelgänger, Ben Foster and John Moabi as the Jackson singers, Denise Pearson as the soul mamma of Motown, and cute Kieran Alleyne as the sly, devilish little Jacko.

There's an excruciating speech towards the end invoking JFK, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. This is followed by an "Earth Song" with everyone dressed in white. The show is worth seeing all the same.

To 12 April (0844 412 4661;

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