By BRUCE DENNILL
History: The King Of Pop / Produced by Showtime Australia / Theatre Of Marcellus, Emperors Palace, Johannesburg
Musical tribute shows are too often pre-judged as somehow less because they are not showcases for original work or because the artist or artists being celebrated are so iconic that it’s unlikely their impact can be matched in any way. But a great many tribute shows match or exceed expectations, with their success built on three pillars: boundless devotion to the musician who is the subject of the piece, top-level talent and disciplined preparation to making the material sound as impressive as possible.
Michael Jackson is one of the toughest acts ever to follow, essentially inventing a way of moving that very few other people are capable of matching and singing platinum-selling hits in a high but multi-faceted voice. Kimberley-born singer and dancer Dantanio Goodman is not only capable of handling such a complex brief, but almost eerily close to Jackson in terms of his appearance (relatively easily achievable using make-up and costumes) and in his varied abilities as a performer (an incredible, striking achievement). Goodman has been refining his act for a quarter of a century, and both his remarkable gifts and his experience show during the course of a generous, two hour-plus performance – the latter in his utter unflappability when he is forced to replace a hands-free microphone with a hand-held one after a technical glitch, and adjust his dance movements accordingly.
The level of attention to detail in the show is astounding, with the first microphone, while slightly unwieldy, an exact copy (in terms of the way it looks, at least) of the equipment used by Jackson onstage, and perhaps a dozen different iconic outfits recalling different periods and highlights – Billie Jean, Thriller and others – of Jackson’s long career.
Goodman is easily the standout talent in the room – he would be in most rooms – but he is supported here by a backing band of sublimely capable musicians and a quartet of dancers whose staggering energy levels and pin-point precision match his own. Throw into this mix Jackson’s unforgettable catalogue of hits (you’ll recognise all of them, and most a couple that simply can’t be squeezed in) and History: The King Of Pop is not only a superb tribute show but an extraordinary show, period. It requires 100% commitment throughout from its cast and nobody ever gives anything less.
Unsurprisingly, no mention is made of the more problematic aspects of Jackson’s life and the court cases that littered his later years, but it is possible to appreciate, via this show, the profound influence he had on music and entertainment without ignoring his making headlines for the wrong reasons.