How a teenage boy took on the role of a lifetime when he performed as the King of Pop, Michael Jackson on a West End stage
Ask a 14-year-old boy who his inspirations were when he was growing up, and you probably wouldn’t expect to hear “Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and James Brown”. But Travis Blake-Hall isn’t your typical teenager. He spent most of last year touring the world playing the young Jackson in Thriller Live. Now the Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA) pupil has performed the Moonwalk in front of audiences in the UK, Germany, France, Switzerland and Tokyo gaining rave reviews.
The young actor’s interest in performing arts started early. “I got into dance through going to drama class, when I was about five-years-old. The teacher noticed some potential and recommended I go to a dance school in Coventry. I went, found my passion and stayed for nine years.” However, Travis says it was pure coincidence he landed the role in Thriller. “I went to the Sylvia Young Theatre School in London during the summer and Thriller Live had been holding auditions just before I arrived. Although I’d missed the official auditions, they were interested in me and asked me a lot of questions, asked me to dance, sing Michael Jackson songs and read a speech in an African-American accent. “They put me straight through to the final four. I went to an unofficial Michael Jackson school and had to spend a week learning the entire production. I then didn’t hear anything for two months, but once I had the call to say I’d got the part, I was on stage in the West End a week later performing to thousands of people.”
Thriller Live features more than two hours of non-stop hits in homage to Jackson’s legendary live performances. Considering the popularity of the singer he was trying to emulate, Blake-Hall ensured the pressures of the job didn’t affect him. “It was intense and hard work but I already knew the songs and had studied Michael Jackson as soon as I heard I’d got the role. It was a good experience and a life changing opportunity. “I didn’t find it daunting to perform in front of so many people, as I’ve been performing in front of audiences since I was little, so I don’t typically get scared. On stage, I tend to look through the audience or above their heads, so I don’t feel overwhelmed. My friends were gobsmacked when I said I’d got the role, but they were really supportive.” His family were even more supportive when Thriller Live started touring nationwide. His mum travelled to spend two weeks in Japan with him as well, as visiting him in France and Germany. “I appeared on TV in Germany which was quite funny. When I watched the play back, I wasn’t speaking English, they dubbed me into German, which I found rather amusing.” Many mothers would be concerned about the impact of travelling and performing on schoolwork and education, but Blake-Hall appears to have taken it all in his stride. “It was a busy time but I didn’t find it too difficult to balance acting with my schoolwork. I had a tutor and the academy sent my work over to me so I managed to keep on top of it all.”
Despite loving the role and the constant ‘life changing experiences’ it threw up, Blake-Hall left the musical after his voice broke, but he remains upbeat about regaining his vocal abilities and is working on his singing range. When it comes to discussing his future, the young actor appears refreshingly modest about his talents, recognising the importance of continuing his education. “At the minute I’m working on my education. Although I want to stay in acting, I also think it’s really important to have an education as a back-up. I’d quite like to pursue acting as a career, possibly in a TV series. But I wouldn’t turn down another musical as I had such an amazing experience with Thriller Live.”