(Photo by Irina Chira)
Now in its seventh year at the Lyric Theatre, Thriller Live has become a West End mainstay and a focal point for fans of Michael Jackson, who died not long after the show opened in January, 2009. Few get to acknowledge the superstar's legacy more buoyantly than lead vocalist Haydon Eshun, who is among the performers that rocks out to more than 25 songs each night. A former member of the British boy band Ultimate KAOS, the delightful Eshun spoke to Broadway.com about “Michael-isms,” keeping it fresh and whether he’ll make the move to Motown.
How long have you been with Thriller Live?
I have! I joined the West End company in September 2009, not long after Michael had died, and the longest I’ve had off since then is two weeks. I actually renewed my contract to take me through to late November of this year. I’ve loved every minute of being here.
The Lyric Theatre must be like a second home.
In some ways it’s more like a first home since I’m here more than I seem to be at my own home in Camden. Being here six days a week year in and year out, this theater has become my home.
And you never get bored?
You know, this feels like something I could do forever—singing timeless music in a great production. At this point, I could see myself going away and even coming back. A lot of people from this show say that they do miss it once they leave; I think it will always be close to my heart.
What’s your personal feeling about Michael Jackson's music?
There are so many great songs: “Rock with You” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” But I think my favorite song in the whole show would have to be “Human Nature.” That one is just magical, and it moves me a lot.
It sounds like quite a workout!
You do lose a lot of weight doing it! I mean, I do still go to the gym, and people there ask me why I’m bothering when I’ve got this in the evening. But I think it just keeps you fit and focused, mentally and physically. There’s a lot of discipline that goes into performing on the West End.
Do you feel yourself moving ever closer to Michael Jackson’s style with each passing year?
It’s actually difficult in this show not to do his moves, so I do do a lot of “Michael-isms” onstage. I’ve found as the years go on that you tend to adopt his sound and style, especially that voice: he always sang his songs in a great key.
I gather this was actually your West End debut.
Yes, and who’d have thought that my West End debut would turn out to be a show that I will have been in for seven years! I just got addicted to the music and to being onstage and performing every day.
It must be amazing seeing the adoration that Jackson’s legacy continues to elicit.
Yes, there are diehard fans out there for Michael who always come and support the show and you really get a feel for that when you sing something especially moving like “Man in the Mirror” or “Human Nature.” Every year we do a tribute to his life on his birthday where we perform at an even greater level, almost as if he were in the building.
Have you had any involvement with his siblings?
All the brothers have come to see the show, and Tito has been three times now. I actually performed two shows with him last September and we’re hoping to do another two in March.
What about your own recording career, given that you were part of a well-known British boyband [Ultimate KAOS} when you were only nine?
When I first started Thriller Live, my manager said to me, “You can go into a studio during the day and do the show at night.” But that lasted a week. After eight shows, I just want to stay in bed.
Part of you must be asking, “What’s next?”
I’d definitely like to get into other shows like a Motown or Dreamgirls or The Lion King. But for now, at least, I’m excited about doing this for one more year and going on from there.
I suppose Motown would be the logical sequel of sorts.
I actually met with Berry Gordy just to say hello. I know a few people who are going into that show [in London], but I wanted to stick it out one more year with Thriller Live before I embark upon my new journey.