First Kidman, now Ball wins friends for the Donmar

~ Evening Standard, 08/06/2001 by Robin Stringer ~

THE Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden is suddenly acquiring scores of new Friends from a most unlikely source - the Michael Ball fan club.

Not since the memorable appearance of the briefly attired Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room three years ago, has this little 250-seat West End theatre felt itself to be so popular.

Then the rush to become a member was predominantly male-driven. Some 400 new Friends suddenly signed up, contributing a welcome 25,000 to the Donmar coffers. This time it is the women who cannot wait to call themselves a Friend of the Donmar, of which there are now around 1,800.

The motivation is clear. Only by becoming a Friend at an annual cost of 25 can you take advantage of priority arrangements which enable you to book ahead of the general public and secure your seat for your chosen show.

In this case the chosen one is the singer Michael Ball who is appearing for two weeks at the theatre in September in the fourth Divas At The Donmar season, which also features Sian Phillips and the returning Clive Rowe.

"The priority booking period only began this week and we have already had 150 people joining so that they can take advantage of it," said Donmar executive producer Caro Newling.

"It is clear that Michael Ball has a huge following and we are obviously delighted at the response. When Nicole Kidman appeared here, a lot of people joined as Friends and have since remained Friends. We hope that happens again."

Michael Ball fans plainly cannot get enough of their idol, star of West End shows including Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom Of The Opera and Stephen Sondheim's Passion, who regularly fills the Royal Albert Hall with his one-man show.

However, they will encounter a different Michael Ball at the Donmar. He is using the occasion to try out a range of new material in a programme which he is still discussing with the theatre.

Whether the fans become so enamoured of the theatre that they then book for the following show, Lillian Hellman's classic The Little Foxes starring Penelope Wilton, remains to be seen.

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