To celebrate the recent announcement of My Life With Michael Jackson: 10 years of Thriller Live!
We sat down with Thriller Live Director and Choreographer Gary Lloyd
to chat about the book and the show.
So Gary, thanks for joining us today and congratulations on 10 years! How does it feel to see Thriller come so far?
It’s been a long journey, and I think until the tenth it’s been something that we’ve just constantly been perfecting. It wasn’t until the tenth birthday that I looked at it and thought “this is a real achievement”. So even knocking shows off of the longest running list has been part of our progression in making the show better. I think the tenth year was a real milestone for me to kind of go “Okay the work that we’ve been putting in is paying off”.
You’re also currently writing a book which is exciting. Can you tell us a little bit more about what to expect?
The book goes on a journey of not just the last ten years of Thriller Live, but also Michael's influence on me growing up. I don’t think I’d be sitting here or doing what I’m doing without him. The book started as an idea of writing about him and Thriller but has become much bigger than that. The book hangs around the day of his death, which was a pivotal moment for the show and the fans. That was the day that this little show became something much bigger for all of us creatives and anyone else involved. It became a shrine and a sanctuary for all the fans and press. and we suddenly felt like we were in the eye of that storm.
It tells stories that I’ve been involved in, and collected from Company Managers and Resident Directors. It also talks about how I became involved, the anniversary and everything moving forward.
Let’s take it all the way back. When you first joined the show, it hadn’t yet made it to the West End. Did you ever see it becoming the 13th longest running musical?
I saw the original show that Adrian put on at the Dominion. I saw lots of potential in that show and I’m forever grateful that I got the phone call to come and work on it and take it further. I think I knew back then in 2006 that Thriller had the potential to be as big as Mama Mia
or We will Rock You
or any of those sort of similar jukebox shows.
So let’s talk about undertaking the choreography under someone as iconic as MJ. How did you approach the choreography and what aspects were most important for you?
It was daunting because you’re being handed this responsibility of recreating the biggest perfectionist that ever lived in terms of constantly putting out the closest thing to perfection. So when you’re given that responsibility of protecting that legacy, it’s huge.
I think being a lifetime fan it was also a rite of passage as well, so it felt like a gift. I felt like the right person and still feel like the right person to do that.
With approaching the choreography, there’s the iconic things you can’t do without, the 'Thriller' routine, the 'Beat It' chorus, Smooth Criminal... Billie Jean. We approach it on a different basis depending on who is playing the role. We do a lot of work on what they can bring and what we can to represent a certain era.
Are there any songs not in the show that you wish were?
I wanted to try to get ‘Love Never Felt So Good’ a couple of years ago. 'Scream', I love. 'In the closet', 'Liberian girl'… But like with everything we discuss it in great detail. To put in a new song, you have to take another one out and that’s quite a big thing to do as well.
If you could go back and give yourself a piece of advice before you started the show, what would it be?
If the show had closed then i’d be able to answer that, but because the show is still running, any time I feel like there’s something that could be improved we’ve got the luxury of being able to change it. I’m constantly giving myself advice but we’re able to do something about it as we have the privilege of the show still running.
With 10 years since his death, do you feel as a choreographer that you’ve been influenced by MJ in your work outside of Thriller at all?
I think possibly influenced but not from working on the show. I think I was already influenced subliminally which is kind of how I’ve gone on the journey I have which is quite out there both working with music artists and on musical theatre. But I don’t think working on the show has influenced other things I do. I have just finished working on Heathers
which is an eighties musical and there were some MJ things that crept in there. That was kind of an obvious choice though!
So with everything we’ve covered through ten years of song and dance, how are you still keeping the show fresh?
We still make changes to the set list, update the kit and new sound desks. We recently changed the flags at the end of ‘Can You Feel It’ to rainbow flags for Pride, which I’m hoping we can keep. I think the creative team are still very much involved, which is unusual for a West End musical after 10 years. I think as a result, we learn from the mistakes of the previous year in terms of cast. We’re always casting with an eye to improve and make things healthier and better. We also listen to the fans and watch the show a lot ourselves.
When casting the show, what do you usually look for in the dancers, and do you have any advice for anyone aspiring to join future casts?
Musicality is very important. In an MJ show, he was so on the beat regardless of age. Detail in the audition, I’m looking for people who are clocking the detail. We want to see individuality but if they can’t pick up the detail on that one routine on that one day then they would be able to flick between 'Dangerous' and 'Can You Feel It', and all the different styles in the show.
In the cast there is a single female lead. What do you think this brings to the show, and what was the thought behind it?
This goes back to Adrian’s concept of having five adult leads and then the child. Those six people representing each strand of Michael’s styles and eras. It’s also near impossible to find men who can sing some of these and also it represents the feminine side of Michael, giving you a sense of Janet [Jackson]. There is a feminine side to Michael. He was super masculine but also quite feminine all within a split secons, and it’s showing that side. We get the females to be as masculine as they can be so you get in some ways an actor who is almost more Michael than the men. You get that wonderful hybrid between the male and the female.
Okay, and why now?
I think ten years was the catalyst. I was having a conversation with a dad friend, dropping my son off at the playground 3 years ago. He was a writer and a mad MJ fan, and we were chatting about what we did. And I wanted to get into writing at the time, and he said ‘You should write a book about your experience on the show’ and I took him up on it…
Any word of a release date yet?
Amazing. Thanks so much for joining us Gary, best of luck with the rest of the book!
No problem at all and thank you.
You can keep up to date by following Gary on Instagram
, where he'll be releasing exclusive and unseen content from the past ten years of Thriller Live.
Pre-order My Life With Michael Jackson: 10 Year of Thriller Live! Here.  Available from 28 October.