Anna Brosnan reviews Michael Starring Ben at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton
Stunt men and fire breathers aside, I've always thought the bravest performers on stage are tribute acts.
Imagine selecting a singing star and, not just any old crooner, one of the finest and most supremely talented people in the history of pop music, and then deciding to hone their art as perfectly as possible. It's not a task anyone should take on lightly.
I rarely see tribute shows as I cannot face the bitter and crushing disappointment which comes with facing the inevitable reality that some famous person or other has not actually been perfectly cloned with the same level of charisma and star quality.
But, being a fan of Michael Jackson's music, I took a chance by going to see Michael starring Ben at Northampton's Royal and Derngate.
Led by singer Ben Bowman, accompanied by backing singers, an on-stage band and three energetic dancers, the show takes its audience on a nostalgic journey through some of Michael's greatest hits.
The first act, which opened with Wanna Be Startin' Something, seemed slower in pace to the second half, establishing a general acceptance by the audience of Ben in the role of Michael.
Of course, Ben can never be exactly like Michael, but I quickly noticed how faithfully he echoed the star's original vocals. Jackson may have been known for belting out everything from upbeat disco to frenetic '80s hits, but many of his songs take a more measured speed, slowing to leave any weakness in singing quality thoroughly exposed. Despite this, Ben was not only able to faithfully deliver dance numbers like Blame it on the Boogie, but also slower songs like Dirty Diana which call for much more musicality and emotion in the phrasing of each line.
Michael was always known for honouring his fans and Ben also replicates this. He chose the song Black and White to venture into the auditorium and work his way around the crowd.
One slightly uncomfortable performance was The Way You Make Me Feel. MJ fans will remember the original video in which a girl in a short dress walks away from Michael and a group of men who are relentlessly following her through dark streets - although it becomes less threatening as the video progresses. The performance echoed a little of this, featuring one of the dancers in an even tinier silver dress. The number was still well performed but perhaps that particular theme belongs in the '80s and doesn't travel quite so happily to 2018.
By the second half, the energy level of the show had increased and Ben delivered some very powerful performances of a string of hits such as Bad and Earth Song. One highlight for me was his performance of Smooth Criminal which was brilliantly choreographed.
The finale had to be Billie Jean, arguably one of the most successful songs ever written, and delivered with a huge helping of drama and panache by Ben Bowman, dressed in a black, with a single silver glove.
The success of a show like this has to be judged by the audience reaction and the majority of the people within the packed theatre auditorium were on their feet by the end, waving their arms and dancing. A great testament to the King of Pop.