Singing the songs of the legendary King of Pop, Michael Jackson, is a dream come true for the leading cast members of Thriller Live– now at The Parisian Macao– an exciting dance musical set that is a tribute to the late entertainer’s life. Among the leading cast members of the West End production are Britt Quentin, Cleopatra Higgins, Rory Taylor and Shaquille Hemmans.
As I arrrived to Parisian Macao, we wandered through the backstage and passed a couple corridors before spotting Britt Quentin, who had his back facing towards us. “Hi!” his face lit up when he turned to us and shook our hands. Behind him, the rest of the cast were just “glamming” up and getting ready for the rehearsals. Costumes from the show hung along one wall; large mirrors bordered by bare bulbs and sofas by another wall where we all sat down. We started with brief bios of themselves.
Britt Quentin, a prolific songwriter, director, producer and dynamic singer was born in Los Angeles, USA. “I’ve been singing ever since I was a kid, but believe it or not, playing the violin was my first love,” he smiles. After studying music in college, he joined a funk-pop-jazz acapella group, M-pact, where he recorded a few albums and toured with them for 12 years, in which he held the position as Musical Director for 11 years. “Then I left them and joined the Thriller Live about seven years ago.”
Just like Britt, Cleo has been singing ever since she was born. “I cried so much my mom couldn’t shut me up. I have four sisters and I was always the loudest one, so everyone just said, ‘Yeah, she’s definitely a singer.” Cleopatra Higgins, born in Birmingham, UK, is the lead singer of the 90s RnB/pop sensation Cleopatra. “Then after 18, I relaunched myself as a solo artist then found Thriller.” Cleo’s been with Thriller Live for three years, and not only is she a performer, Cleo she is also an Ambassador for Hearts and Minds Charity for Autism.
Rory Taylor is a singer and musician from The Wirral. Born in Heswall, UK, Rory has been performing since the age of seven, “I was massively inspired by Michael Jackson.” Together, Rory, his brothers and cousin formed the band 54321. Later in 2013, he toured in West End before joining the Thriller Live family.
“I began acting at the age of 11 and auditioned for a few movies out there,” Shaquille Hemmans, the youngest among the singers, was also born in Los Angeles, USA. He was featured on Fox’s hit show Bones, appeared on Disney Channel’s Ant Farm and danced on MTV show Awkward. “After that, I wanted to dive into singing and now I’m here in Thriller Live!”
What’s challenging and rewarding about what you do?
“I think what’s challenging is staying vocally healthy and fit,” Britt starts as the rest of the members nodded. He mentions that because the King of Pop has an extremely high voice, “it’s very difficult to have that type of stamina in the range that he sings in, especially when we generally do eight shows a week.” However, Britt finds it rewarding when he’s able to achieve it and sees the amazing reaction of the audience.
Cleopatra agreed, “Even as a female, it’s really high! And everyone just expects that all the females are able to achieve that. The amount of shows that we do in a week really takes its toll on you. But then again, when you hear yourself hit that sweet spot, you would go ‘Aha!’ then you’ll be so proud of yourself. The audience and fans will love it because you brought Michael Jackson to them in your own version and when they’re happy, it’s the best.”
For both Shaquille and Rory distance is a problem. “It’s tough being away and you miss out on a lot of things so that’s a big sacrifice. But what’s very rewarding to me is the on-stage camaraderie that we have. And because we’re away from our families for so long, we do become one and it’s a very nice feeling.”, Rory explains.
What do you love most about Michael Jackson?
“I think what I love most about Michael is that he’s an incredible humanitarian.” Cleo begins. “He’s an intelligent man and he shows that in the words he used. He can be political and he can be fun, but he was very much a humanitarian. I’m always trying to emulate the same likeness to Michael and he put that in me.”
Britt adds, “Michael was probably the only human being to ever walked this planet to this day. He has been able to touch everybody, no matter how old you are, your race, what language you speak, what your beliefs are, your sexual orientation, whatever.”
“No one could ever be compared to him,” Rory starts, “You don’t find people who have got that amount of style, intelligence, a talent for writing. His songwriting, vocals and dance moves are just outrageous! I don’t think the world is ever going to see anyone like him.”
“What I love about him is his ability to give his all no matter what. I think the generation growing up now either has the abilty to sing or to dance, but Michael had it all and that inspires us, as performers, to give our all when we’re on stage,” Shaquille says.
If Michael was with us right now, what would you like to say to him?
“Oh wow…” everyone says under their breath.
“I would say Thank you’,” Britt paused, “That would probably be the only thing that would actually get out… and I think he would get everything that I was trying to say,” they all nodded.
Rory answers, “I suppose I would love to have experienced him and talk to him on a personal level— and not have an interview that is dominated by the headlines or controversy, which is unfortunately what we all saw for the past 15 years. I’d love to just ask him questions on a personal level like, ‘How are you enjoying being a father?’”
“I don’t think there’s anything more you can tell him apart from the fact that we all love him. But I would love to just give him a hug,” teary-eyed Cleo adds in, “And tell him ‘even though we’ll never fully understand you, we know,” tears started rolling down her cheeks, “I would definitely be in pieces if I get the opportunity to meet him in person because he worked so hard and he gave his all to us.”
“I’d give him a hug and say Thank you as well,” Shaquille smiled.
Have you roamed around Macau?
Cleo and Shaquille put up their hands up excitedly while Britt and Rory shook their heads.
“I’ve had a little look around but not so much, we’ve been busy lately,” Rory explains.
Cleo chimes in, “We’ve been to the city center (San Ma Lo), it was so cool! We didn’t want to be stuck in the glitz and glamor so we dragged each other out and tracked down some Dim Sum, they’re really good! We also saw the pandas! We’re planning to go to Macau Tower and probably do the Bungy jump or Skywalk—the scary stuff.”
What advice would you offer to someone considering your career path?
“I’d say learn your craft,” Britt advices, “Some people think that just because they have a hobby or they’re doing something they like, that they could just walk into an audition and get the job. As a person that sits on both sides of the audition table, learn your craft. Practice, take classes, exercise, look the part etc… There are a million people out there trying to get the same job so you have to stand out!”
“I’d say if you’re not prepared to take some of the worst criticisms you’ll ever gain, don’t even bother starting. You can be the best person for the job and they’ll still find a reason for you not to get the job. If you feel like quitting after that, don’t bother coming back, because you’ve got to be prepared to give everything you’ve got and still be able to take it when they say No to you.” Rory says.
“You’ve got to have a passion for it and that would give you the drive to practice. You’ve got to feel it in your heart because it’s going to expand to the audience, and the audience knows when you don’t connect with them so if you really love it, you really have to want it and go for it.” Cleo offers.
The tickets for Thriller Live runs until November 13, 2016 at the Parisian Theatre and are still available via Cotai Ticketing. Tickets can be booked online now at www.cotaiticketing.com or by phone at +853 2882 8818 for Macau, +852 6333 6660 for Hong Kong and +400 1206 618 for Mainland China.