As Thriller Live prepares to bring the magic of Michael Jackson’s music to life at the Sunderland Empire, TheGuide speaks to the show’s creator, Adrian Grant.
Adrian Grant knew Michael Jackson for more than 20 years and attended his memorial service in LA.
He was the first UK journalist to interview Michael at Neverland (for the cover of Smash Hits) and was invited back several times over the years to interview Michael and attend the studio for the recording of several of his biggest albums.
TheGuide (TG): Why did so many years pass between the first Jackson Celebration of ‘91 and the musical?
Adrian Grant (AG): The Annual Michael Jackson Celebration started in 1991 and ran every year for ten years.
In 2001 Michael personally attended the show in London and watched over 100 performers pay tribute to him. Afterwards he came on stage and told the 3,000 fans in attendance that he thought the celebration had been “beautiful and incredible.”
There were a few more tributes organised – specifically when Michael was acquitted of child abuse allegations in 2005.
Thereafter I began planning Thriller Live, which first premiered on the August 27, 2006, in London, before touring the UK in 2007.
TG: Is it true that Jackson didn’t want a show about him to start?
AG: No, from the outset his management were fully aware of the show, and in 2007 Michael wished me luck with the production. He had always been fully supportive of the Annual Michael Jackson Celebration, even sending over his own video crew to film the event and fans.
It’s a great shame that he never got to see Thriller Live, but Kenny Ortega (an American producer) recently told us that Michael was planning on coming to watch the show during his This Is It stay in London – but dressed in disguise. TG: How have the actors been selected for the musical? Have you had trouble finding artists for such an important role?
AG: Casting the show is the most difficult aspect in Thriller Live because Michael Jackson was such a unique talent.
I decided from day one that I didn’t want the show to be a straight tribute performance with one impersonator. I wanted to take the audience on a journey and display all of Michael Jackson’s different personas and talent on stage.
Therefore we have five lead principal singers sharing the songs throughout – including a child for the early Jackson 5 hits, a soulful singer, the pop singer, a rock singer and a female singer which surprises many people – but she brings a lot of balance to many of the songs.
Then there are also the dancers.
We have one lead MJ dancer, who fronts songs such as Smooth Criminal, Thriller and Billie Jean.
On top of this we have 10 male and female dancers who bring the stage to life with fantastic choreography from director Gary Lloyd. For these dancers it is a dream come true to be in a show inspired by an icon they grew up on, learning his moves daily.
TG: Do you believe that the This Is It performances would have meant his artistic rebirth? Or had his golden moment passed?
AG: I believe the This Is It concerts would have reaffirmed Michael Jackson as the world’s greatest entertainer – and would have taken concert production to a whole new level.
Michael was a perfectionist and was always looking to better his previous work. He was the ultimate showman, and he still had so much more to give – both on and off stage.
l Thriller Live brings to life the sensational dancing and distinctive sound of Michael and the Jackson 5.
With multi-media effects and dazzling choreography by the show’s award-winning director Gary Lloyd, Thriller Live marks the first Jackson-dedicated live theatrical experience.
Thriller Live includes more than two-hours of non-stop hit songs in a show that pays homage to the world-class spectacle of Jackson’s legendary live performances.
It is at the Sunderland Empire from July 11 to July 16. Tickets costing £15.50 to £33.50 are available from 0844 847 2499.