'Thriller Live' pays homage to Michael Jackson; West End musical bound for KL

  • Arts
  • Saturday, 24 Jan 2015

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Gary Lloyd tackles the daunting task of choreographing a dance musical tribute to the late King Of Pop.

How does one replicate Michael Jackson’s dance steps? Anyone can learn to do the moonwalk and crotch-grabbing hip thrusts, but no one comes close to matching the icon when he moves. The magic of the late King of Pop lives on in Thriller Live, a dance musical set to light up Kuala Lumpur in March.

Named after the legendary pop star’s bestselling album Thriller, the show originates from Britain and pays homage to the illustrious entertainer. The international-scale production has toured 28 countries since 2009 and features over 50 performers from the West End, including an 11-piece live band to crank up the hits.

When Gary Lloyd was given the daunting task of choreographing the show, he was elated. He had been a longtime fan who had followed Jackson’s career closely. As the award-wining British director and choreographer of Thriller Live, as well as the creative director on American Idol and The X Factor, Lloyd is known for his crossover from music to theatre. 

He's worked with superstars like Cliff Richard, Dame Shirley Bassey, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, Leona Lewis, Ne-Yo, Pink, Robbie Williams, Robin Gibb, Sir Tom Jones, and Victoria Beckham. He has also choreographed West End productions such as HairFame, Aspects Of Love and My Fair Lady.

But nothing beats putting together Thriller Live, which he likens to “an ongoing dream come true” and “an unforgettable experience”.

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Gary Lloyd.

“There's no specific MJ move that's hard. It’s more about the overall style, which is very precise and takes a long time to master. My choreographic style is conceptual, detailed and has a great deal of funk!” says Lloyd.

Jackson's dancing was influenced by the greatest entertainers of the 20th century, including Bob Fosse, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Jackie Wilson and Sammy Davis, Jr. He also had great respect for artistes from the music hall tradition, like French actor and mime artiste Marcel Marceau, as well as filmmaker and comic actor Charlie Chaplin.

But Jackson's greatest inspiration since his childhood was the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Jackson often referred to that icon as a “genius” and “the master”, and stated in numerous interviews that nobody influenced him more than Brown.

Lloyd started his dance career as a ballroom and Latin American champion before he discovered Jackson.

“It was Michael and his work that turned my head to more commercial and theatrical dance, though I didn’t audition to be his dancer. Training and working in Britain didn't present those opportunities, like they may do now. It was definitely one of my dreams, and becoming the director of Thriller Live has fulfilled a part of that.”

His favourite dance move? “The moonwalk and the lean are big moments for the audience, but I would have to say his shapes,” Lloyd revealed to digital magazine Dance Informa last year. “The precision, power and detail that go into his shapes are beyond belief, and no one has come close to matching them.”

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While it's been an exciting journey, Llyod says there have been challenging moments while putting his act together. “We discovered very early on, through close study, that this man was extremely complex in his writing, his choreography and in his execution of a performance. The show is very much about representing the many sides of Michael Jackson, and the fans often comment that we have done this really well.”

On choosing the songs, Lloyd says, “The show is constantly evolving, so the set list changes constantly. The obvious hits stay in there, but we play with the other tracks to keep the show fresh. As for the five actors playing Michael, I look for perfection, commitment and a little craziness!”

Though he never met Jackson in person, Lloyd has met most of Michael's family who have come to show their support. Lloyd says he was devastated to learn of Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009.

“It continues to be really painful for a lot of people involved with the show. The responsibility we all have in keeping the legacy alive is so mammoth, and we take it incredibly seriously. It’s not something we take for granted despite the success of the show,” he says.

Though he has directed musicals and TV productions, Lloyd says he finds theatre the most fulfilling. “You can always get to the piece and improve, hone and change it. It’s a different audience and a different experience every night, rather than the pressure of live TV where you only have one shot.”

With several accolades to his credit, Lloyd is continually sought for his creative vision, compelling theatre sensibility, and his ability to translate stunning choreographed performances from a West End stage to a concert arena and down the lens of a camera, all to a worldwide audience. 

Combining video footage, LED effects, dazzling costumes and high-energy dance moves, Thriller Live has been a staple on London’s West End for six years. The show became the 20th longest-running musical last October, among illustrious titles like Phantom Of The Opera, Chicago and Cats

Kuala Lumpur is the only South-East Asian date for the touring production, which has attracted both Jackson's fan base and theatre lovers. The show’s crossover appeal is intensified by a mix of favourites from Michael and the Jackson 5, including ABC, Bad, Beat It, Billie Jean, Blame It On The Boogie, I Want You Back, Rock With You, Smooth Criminal, The Way You Make Me Feel and, of course, Thriller.

What can the audience expect from Thriller Live? Lloyd promises: “A two-hour MJ workout celebrating all the best moments of the King of Pop!”

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Thriller Live runs at Putra Indoor Stadium, Kuala Lumpur, March 19–25 at 8:30pm; plus 3pm weekend matinees on March 21 and 22. The show is presented by Milestone Production, with Star Publications (M) Bhd as the media partner. Tickets are RM538, RM468, RM398, RM298, RM168 and RM128, with a 25% "early bird" discount until Jan 12. Go to ticketcharge.com.my or call TicketCharge at (03) 9222-8811. For details, go to milestone-entertainment.com. Milestone is also organising a Thriller Live Flashmob Dance Competition with prizes to be won. For details, go to their Facebook page.

NEXT PAGE: 15 Things You Should Know About The King Of Pop

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1. Michael Jackson is the most-awarded artiste of all time. He won more awards than any other musician alive or deceased. He’s received 23 Guinness World Records, 40 Billboard Awards, 13 Grammys and 26 American Music Awards.

2. He has been recognised by the Guinness Book Of World Records in a new category for Highest-Earning Deceased Artiste, gaining the top honour. In the first year after his passing in 2009, MJ’s estate raked in a reported $1bil.

3. The song Thriller was originally called Starlight.

4. Thriller is the first music video to ever be added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

5. Producer Quincy Jones wanted Billie Jean to be titled Not My Lover, so people wouldn’t think the song was about tennis player Billie Jean King.

6. Billie Jean was the first music video by a black artiste to air on MTV.

7. MJ’s famous dance move, the moonwalk, is said to have been based on the routine of mime artiste Marcel Marceau.

8. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for himself and one for the Jackson 5.

9. The video for Beat It features actual gang members: about 80 actual members from the street gangs Crips and Bloods were cast as extras and performers in the video, not only to add authenticity, but also in an attempt to foster peace between the two rivals.

10. The music video for Bad was directed by noted film director Martin Scorcese.

11. While MJ’s most famous pet is Bubbles the chimpanzee, his other pets included a boa constrictor called Muscles, a llama called Louis, and a ram called Mr Tibbs. MJ used to bring Bubbles for his recording sessions for the album Bad and he also took him along to Tokyo.

12. MJ invented and patented special boots that allowed the wearer to lean so far forward that it seems to defy gravity. He used these for the famous “lean” in the Smooth Criminal music video.

13. In the late 1990s, he tried to purchase Marvel Comics, which had filed for bankruptcy. His dream was to produce a Spider-Man movie starring himself. Unfortunately for Michael, this venture failed, and the role of Spider-Man went to Tobey Maguire when the film finally came together.

14. While MJ is often called the “King of Pop”, he is technically a real royal: in 1992, he was awarded a royal title by the people of Gabon in the Ivory Coast.

15. The news of MJ’s death caused several websites to crash due to user overload. These included TMZ.com, the Los Angeles Times, Twitter, AOL Messenger and Wikipedia. Meanwhile, Google initially believed that the input from millions of people searching for “Michael MJ” meant that the search engine was under attack.

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