Book review – My Life With Michael, by Gary Lloyd

Thriller Live has celebrated a ten-year residence at the Lyric Theatre in London’s West End. Described in this book as “a live concert musical of Michael’s most successful work”, it is directed and choreographed by Gary Lloyd, and My Life With Michael: 10 Years of Thriller Live is his personal memoir of his time on the show.

From the beginning and foreword, it is clear that this will be a celebration of the work of an artist Lloyd never got to meet in person, but got to know through his immersion in the creation of the show and its routines. It is not concerned with issues of Jackson’s personal life, or the media circus that surrounded him during his entire recording career.

It’s a delicate and dangerous responsibility and a duty of not only an admirer of Michael Jackson, but a devotee of theatre, of magic, of musical genius and a life dedicated to creating and performing.

Gary Lloyd on Thriller Live, page x of My Life With Michael

In many ways it is a book which sings sweetly about a child who never grew up, a genius of performance who revelled in the sobriquet of the “King of Pop” but retained a distance and mystique from his public.

Thriller Live as a show was in its infancy, somewhat struggling, when Jackson died, unexpectedly, at the age of just fifty. He was planning a long run of shows at the O2 Arena and had been rehearsing for them. Some say the stress of planning such a large commitment killed him. The theatre, and the show, became a place of solace and a vigil for fans who were united in grief.

Lloyd’s account of growing up in 1970s working-class Britain resonated with me, as we are close contemporaries in age and background – although my foray into ballet lessons was mercifully brief, being told at five years ago that I wasn’t “supple enough” to progress. Like Lloyd, I grew up hearing the music of Michael Jackson. He seemed to be everywhere.

When the Thriller short film was released, we watched on next door’s VCR. MJ was an “event”. That was the reality in the 1980s. Few performers were bigger, flashier, more famous. Few performers were more suited to the fast-moving “Wall to Wall” video channel MTV, which debuted during the decade. It was a route to superstardom which is hard to comprehend in the age of internet and social media.

For Lloyd, in a Northern town, a 1980s male dancer, Jackson was salvation. As we follow him through the next phase of life, taking on performance and creative roles in major shows, we see how destiny brought him back to Michael Jackson and to Thriller Live.

My Life With Michael also contains a full description of every element of the show, which regular attendees may find fascinating, and elsewhere Lloyd effects a warm, informal and chatty tone to take us through the genesis, evolution, and challenges of the show which has become a lasting tribute to an artist taken before his time.

Publicity image for Thriller Live
Publicity image for Thriller Live

I found this book to be an enjoyable read, even as a somewhat casual fan of Jackson himself. It was particularly illuminating to learn that Lloyd, even as a lifelong fan of the singer, underestimated his moves and his obsession with figures from popular culture (Astaire, Fosse, Calloway) who undoubtedly influenced his work.

Through a series of “conversations” with other parties, Lloyd’s My Life With Michael is much more than just one man’s view of his show and his subject, and many of the recollections and discussions are fascinating to read.

It certainly gave me much more of an insight into how the show evolved and the intentions behind it than I had previously. It is always a joy to read deeply into how performers approach their craft: especially when playing a real character, known to millions.

Thriller Live continues at the Lyric Theatre until 26 April 2020.

LouReviews received a complimentary copy of My Life With Michael in exchange for this review.