by Louis Train
Thriller Live, the Michael Jackson concert show on the West End, celebrated its tenth anniversary last night with a performance and a reception. The performance was great fun and the reception was tasteful, and the evening, overall, was a success. But I feel there were some lingering questions that neither the personalities on stage nor at the party can answer.
First, let’s get this out of the way: Thriller Live is great. It’s more than two hours of superb singing and dancing, running through the greatest hits of the Michael Jackson catalogue. There is no plot – thank God – and, rather than casting one poor soul to stand in Jackson’s gigantic, sparkly shadow, there are four vocalists and ten or so dancers, who, between the lot of them, keep the spectacle alive without any trace of exhaustion. It is breathless, acrobatic, and intense. It is great fun.
The tenth anniversary show adds a bit more: past members are invited to join the cast, including Superstar winner Ben Forster, and at the end, the performers, director, and producers pay tribute to Michael Jackson, whose death will be marked with its own ten-year anniversary this June. The Jackson they tear up over is not only the King of Pop and the best there ever was, but also an altruist, down-to-earth, a real person, and a really great guy. It is lavish, uncomplicated praise for a man who you have to admit was, at the very least, complicated.
In 1993, Michael Jackson was accused of sexually assaulting a child, but settled out of court before any verdict was returned. In 2005, a lengthy and much-publicised trial saw Jackson and his lawyers denying several charges, including molesting a minor, intoxicating a minor in order to molest him, and conspiring to hold a boy and his family captive. Jackson was acquitted on all counts, even though one of his alleged victims, a teenager, directly testified that Jackson had molested him. Michael Jackson didn’t produce any hits after that, but Thriller Live is evidence of his gleaming legacy: he won the trial, and eventually – and maybe only in death – won the public back over as well.
2019 is not 2005. A vocal group of cultural critics and commentators, many of them drawing on feminist theories, have in recent years argued that we, the public, ought to believe victims even when juries don’t. Believing victims is an essential part of the #yesallwomen and #metoo movements, the latter of which saw several high-profile figures go down in 2018: the reputations of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K., among others, have been irrecoverably tarnished, even though none of them has been found guilty in a court. What would have happened if Jackson’s trial had coincided with that of Bill Cosby or Jian Ghomeshi?
I put this question to a couple of people at the afterparty. One young woman, unaffiliated with the show, dismissed the matter: “He was the king,” she chirped. “He was the best. He did all his own music, his own dance.” When I asked how that related to his alleged abuse of minors, she reiterated, “He was a genius.”
One man, who has not worked on the show but is personally connected to someone who does, explained, “I have kids, and I want to show them that the dangerous men are the white men in suits.” He was a bit tipsy. But then, almost everyone was, either on the free drinks or the excitement of the night’s entertainment: everyone was having a good time.
No one wanted to talk about allegations – they wanted to dance, to have fun. And I couldn’t blame them. With all the stresses in the world, the anxieties and tensions bearing down in every direction, who wouldn’t seize – or invent – an opportunity for good, uncomplicated fun?
Thriller Live is currently running through 29 September.
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