Victoria Hall, Stoke-on-Trent, 16 November 2019

It must be a daunting challenge, trying to emulate a star that shone as brightly as Michael Jackson’s. The King Of Pop was the ultimate showman and a true perfectionist, so it was going to take a strong performance from Ben Bowman in Michael Starring Ben to give me a sense of what it would have been like to see Jackson in the flesh. I caught up with the 2019 tour at the Victoria Hall in Stoke-on-Trent.

Ben has been honing his craft for over ten years and, with his highly talented five-piece band featuring Luke Capon (bass guitar, backing vocals), Sam Woods (guitar, backing vocals), Pete Wheeler (drums) and vocalist Emma Devine together with three dancers, this is the closest one will now get to the real thing. Now, although I don’t profess to be a Michael Jackson fan, I admire his talent and artistic drive to create something exceptional in the world of entertainment. So I trust that the dance routines have been meticulously studied and are executed with the greatest attention to detail. The reaction of those around me said it all, this was spot on!

Michael Starring Ben takes you on a journey through many of Jackson’s hits opening with, the relatively modestly successful, Wanna Be Starting Something, In The Closet and Another Part of Me, before shifting gear with showstoppers Blame It On The Boogie and Don’t Stop Till You get Enough. The dance tempo has increased and some of the fans are on their feet.

This is not all about party, though. My favourite Jackson tunes are the ballads and Ben wrings every bit of emotion out of his environmental epic Earth Song. The pace picks up again as the hits continue, including The Way You Make Me Feel and Beat It before the first set comes to an end with one of many iconic dance routines The Drill – They Don’t Care About Us, brilliantly executed by Ben and his dancers Jessica K Holder, Hayley Driscoll and Lisa Evans-Hughes.

The second half of the show opens with the lively Shake Your Body and then slips into a medley of Jackson 5 hits: I Want You Back, ABC and The Love You Save. Now, we’re cooking on gas! The whole audience is now on it’s feet, up and dancing in the aisles and the classics are now coming thick and fast. The first moonwalk of the evening comes during Bad, Smooth Criminal sees a young lad dancing down the aisle throwing some great shapes while the focus, on stage, for Thriller is a great routine with the dancers in ghoulish costumes for the zombie dance.

Ben remains in character for the whole performance even when he speaks to his audience. “Without the love and music of one man,” he says, “we would not be here tonight. So, I would like to dedicate my last song to Michael Jackson, The King Of Pop.” Man In The Mirror is another emotional performance as the audience, arms aloft, join in the chorus as Ben brings the set to a close.

But, of course, no one is leaving without an encore, and Ben returns, walking slowly across the stage, suitcase in hand. He stops and places the case, carefully, on a stool and opens the case. He takes out a black jacket and a shower of sparkly dust falls to the ground. Then he takes a black hat and, finally, a single sparkling silver glove. He slips on the glove and, centre stage, strikes The Pose before launching into, what may be, Jackson’s most memorable routine, Billie Jean.

The routine features a full stage-width moonwalk while an ever-growing crowd assemble around the stage, reaching out for a touch or a handshake. Ben Bowman, it would seem, now has his own fans who come regularly to see him when he is in town. They had a great night which finally came to an end with the anthem Heal The World, long live the memory of The King Of Pop.

Set list

Wanna Be Starting Something

In The Closet

Another Part Of Me

Blame It On The Boogie

Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough

Earth Song

Black And White

The Way You Make Me Feel

Beat It

Dirty Diana

The Drill – They Don’t Care About Us

 

Shake Your Body

Jackson 5 medley:

I Want You Back

ABC

The Love You Save

I’ll Be There

Bad

Human Nature

Smooth Criminal

Thriller

Man In The Mirror

 

Encore

Billie Jean

Heal The World