More about Thriller Live creation and renewal process

Thriller Live poster for Dubai shows
© – Thriller Live poster for Dubai shows in March 2019

For the first time since 2011, Thriller Live is back to the United Arab Emirates. After shows in Abu Dhabi 8 years ago, the audience of Dubai has enjoyed the concert that celebrates Michael Jackson’s music for the first time this March. Dubai is the second stop of the Middle East tour after a stop in Kuwait.

In order to promote this event, Thriller Live cast and crew have been interviewed by local media. After Britt Quentin answering questions from Mark Lloyd to introduce shows in Dubai, this time it’s the tour manager Phil Watts that is giving more details to Emma Brain for Dubai eye radio. Among other topics, Phil Watts is explaining how artists are cast for such a challenging show and how they are getting ready to perform, letting us know more about Thriller Live creation and renewal process. You can listen to the full interview on website.

The prestige of performing in Dubai

Emma Brain: With me in the studio is Phil Watts, tour manager for the Thriller show which is happening at the Dubai opera from the 26th to the 30th of this month. Thank you very much for joining us. Thriller is on an absolutely massive run in the UK. It’s been seen all over the world, millions of people have seen this show. How are you feeling about bringing it to the United Arab Emirates?

Phil Watts: It’s fantastic, we’re so glad to be here. The cast of Thriller Live is having a great time. We were in Kuwait last week and the audience were absolutely amazing. Actually we have been there before, we have been in Abu Dhabi some 7 or 8 years ago. But it’s fantastic to finally be here in Dubai.

Emma Brain: Performing at the Dubai opera which is now such an iconic venue for events: how does that feel?

Phil Watts: It’s fantastic again. We were there this morning doing a photo shoot and just to see the building itself and the surroundings. And the cast over there was just open-mouthed for the whole time we were doing the photos. It looks like and it feels like “It’s going to be a great room for us”.

A strong training in preparation for the show

Emma Brain: How many members of the cast do you have with the show?

Phil Watts: We have 10 dancers on stage, we have a 6 piece band and we have 5 singers including our young Michael, our child performer.

Emma Brain: So it kind of runs from the Jackson 5 right the way up to the end basically?

Phil Watts: It does basically. It’s not completely chronological, but we start off with the Jackson 5 and introduce quite a lot of the big songs ; and then go through the journey from there.

Emma Brain: How long does it take for the cast to rehearse the show? Cause it seems it’s a pretty intensive one!

Phil Watts: It really is, yeah. For a new cast, the dancers would have 6 weeks rehearsal and that’s before they reach the rehearsal studio. The singers will probably have at least 4 weeks. And we’re all get together for the final 2 weeks of technical rehearsals and dress rehearsals,…

Emma Brain: How much rehearsal time do you have here at the Dubai opera?

Phil Watts: We don’t need any. We’re good to go!

Emma Brain: What’s the reaction of audience has been like during this run?

Phil Watts: That is the best part of doing this show. It’s that every single audience walks out with a smile on their face. What we want to do is to play 34 or 35 songs that everybody remembers. They perform fantastically. The production is really big. It’s a concert show. And we send people away happy and that’s such a good thing to be able to do.

Emma Brain: How do you pick which songs, which tracks to include? Because the back catalog is so vast and so huge! Where do you even start?

Phil Watts: You’re right it’s a completely huge catalog. Of course it’s for the direction or producers to decide which songs they want to do but you’ll always find as a spine running through the show the songs of course you have to do: Billie Jean, Beat it, Dangerous, Smooth criminal, all those are always there. And then the director would look at the back catalog and think “OK, we’re not doing this song for a while” or “It’s a little bit of an obscure one just to let people know”. Also of course it depends on the particular cast and he’ll always work to their strengths.

Emma Brain: Do you change the songs depending what territory you go to? Maybe some stay in and some stay out?

Phil Watts: No: once a show is set, it’s set pretty well. Of course we always look at cultural sensibilities and looking if what we’re doing is fitting with the particular places we’re working in. But the actual show itself stays the same. 

A very challenging show for performers

Emma Brain: And choreography-wise, because the moves and the dance moves of Michael Jackson are so unique through his career. How do you pick the dancers that are capable of doing that?

Phil Watts: We have an absolutely amazing director who has got the best eye ever for talent! In the singers and the dancers immediately he will see the people who are capable of doing these moves, and not only capable, but physically capable of doing it 8 times a week.

Emma Brain: The cast has to be so fit to do this, right?

Phil Watts: Yes it’s a really hard show for singers and dancers. We have 5 singers because not 1 singer can really do justice to everything that we need to perform. So what we’re trying to do is showing the different facets of his performing career. So we have a guy who sings the rock songs, we have 2 soul singers and we have a female lead as well as the young MJ. And between them, they split the type of materials that we’re performing. And for the dancers, I always blacken it to be sportsmen or sportswomen because that’s the kind of moves they’re doing. When I need to get them to physical treatments it’s sports injuries rather than dance injuries that they tend to suffer from.

Emma Brain: So very physically challenging?

Phil Watts: Incredibly demanding for the guys yeah, it really is.

Emma Brain: It’s obviously not just the music and the performance and the choreography. You have all the costumes, that go with it as well, I can’t even imagine! Who goes into that?

Phil Watts: Our costume supervisor. It’s her job every day to make sure that the costumes are in the right place or for the right people. And whenever we move, like move from Kuwait to Dubai, that everything gets stored properly and that is before you even look at the maintenance of the show. We have a strong wardrobe team and they’re doing an absolute amazing job.

Staying the distance after more than 10 years

Emma Brain: It sounds fantastic and runs from tomorrow night through to the 30th, 7 shows in total at the Dubai opera. Where do you go from Dubai? Where you’re heading to next?

Phil Watts: We head straight to Munich for 2 weeks to finish the last part of our German tour that we’ve just almost completed. And then from there we go back to the UK until the end of the summer. We’re still waiting to find out for definitely what we’re doing in the autumn but the tour just keeps moving.

Emma Brain: It’s been going for years.

Phil Watts: This is my 10th year with the show. And in that time it just never stopped touring because it’s just so popular. People like it and of course we’re in the west end so it’s a great shop window. So promoters will come from the west end to see the show and immediately book it. We did 1 show in India as a private party for a gentleman, an Indian guy, who came to watch the show and just said to his PR “I want that for my 40th birthday”.

Emma Brain: Wow that’s amazing! Really for a show to run that long, the moves and everything stand in the test of time. And it’s still where the audience is today that it did back in the days.

Phil Watts: Absolutely! And the age range of the audience we get goes from literally 6 to 60, probably 6 to 80 actually. And they all have that period they prefer, someone the Motown period, someone the Smooth criminal, etc. There is something for everybody and as I said before everybody just goes away happy.

© Audio: Dubai Eye – The Night Shift / photo:

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