Sheridan Morley

~ 31st August 2001 on BBC Radio 2 ~

Many thanks to Pat Stearman to take the time of transcribing the interview. The interview starts with the airing of "Seasons of Love" taken from Rent!

The voice of my star guest this evening, Michael Ball, just one of the songs from a wonderful new CD. He's also appearring on Radio 2 with a series on Broadway and is about to open at the Donmar - as one of the Divas.
Michael always blames me on this programme for bulllying him into doing Stephen Sonheim's Pasion, but I'm very glad I did as it worked out very well. But you in many ways now Michael  have crossed over into singing, and the enormous hits you have on the road with your solo concerts. Do you think of yourself as a first and foremost a theatre singer?
MB I think so, I think I approach every song I do as I would approach a song from the theatre, it's lyric based, it's a story based, it's character based.Someone asked me recently do I think of myself as an actor or a singer? That's a harder one to answer, I started off as an actor, very much considering and thinking myself as an actor, but I've done so much singing now, and concentrated so much on that, that I think maybe I've slipped over into the other side.
The new CD takes you back 'Centre Stage' - the name of the album - some very familiar songs, and certainly not surprisingly because you have a long track record with Andrew Lloyd Webber  and Sondheim.How far back does that go?
MB Goes to Phantom of the Opera, the first cast change of Phantom, I'd just finished in Les Mis and they were re-casting and I got a call to go and see him to try out for the part of Raoul. And it was while we were doing that that he was writing Aspects of Love and the sort of whole thing started
SM We talk a lot on this programme about theatre music...the big shows are beginning to close..we are going back to a smaller world
MB I don't know if we're going back to a smaller world - I just did this series as you said for Radio 2 about Broadway now, the current new hits on Broadway, what struck me there was the difference. I was there 10 years ago doing Aspects and it was a dodgy place, New York itself and going to the theatre wasn't that pleasant an experience. it's not unlike going to the theatre here now,which is not the greatest of experiences, whereas there now it's absolutely fanstastic. It was the life and the vibrancy of the productions, I don't know if you've seen The Producers yet? (Indeed - $100 and worth it) Its the best thing I've ever seen, from the second they struck up  the overture, Springtime for Hitler, I don't think I stopped laughing for 2 and a half hours.
SM And that's the key because for a long time we're talking about shows that come from here, Les Mis, Phantom, and they're not joke they've rediscovered laughter in the musical
What was interesting, I went and saw Aida, which I don' know if it's going to come over here (which is Tim Rice and Elton John) Tim Rice and Elton, and that's going down the British route of musical I think , there aren't a lot of laughs, it's all very sincere and that sort of staring off into the theatre middle distance with an angst look in your face. A couple of funny numbers in there but it struck me as one of the ones that stuck out from the others, it didn't fit into the, a lot of them are pastiches, they've re-opened 42nd street, the Full Monty, they send up a lot of musical genres in it, seems that Broadway has re-invented itself by pastiching itself.
SM We'll come back to that later - but we'd better explain that your Broadway show is back next week
MB I've been shoved out because of the Blackpool illuminations!
SM ....... you also have Divas at the Donmar - this used to be a very female tradition with the great Barbara Cook.This year in fact it's you, it's Clive Rowe, Sian Phillips the only woman....Are you going to do the CD?
MB No, I'm doing 2 weeks there, Sam Mendes phoned and asked if I'd be interested in doing it, a male Diva - a Divum, I think it is, or Divass - I call it Dudes at the Donmar - and he said this is an opportunity for you to do something really different and that's exactly what I've done. The prerequisites of the show before I started piecing it together were: I wouldn't sing any song I've ever sung before, or recorded, I wouldn't use any instrument except the piano (S - the great Jason Carr) yeah - and I wouldn't speak to the audience.It's all gonna be a story told through songs, through differerent kinds of songs, 
SM What kind of story?
MB It's the story of a performer - what inspires you to go onto a stage, what it's like going onto a stage, how it's amazingly fulfilling at the time, then there's a great emptiness at the end of it, so then you look for other things - and I've got three weeks left to -sort -I'm still working on it.
SM Do you mean new songs to you or new songs?
MB New songs to me, new songs period, a couple of interesting things that Sondheim has reworked. There's a wonderful old Peggy Lee song, written by Leiber and Stoller called Is that all there is? Well, Eve Ensler has rewritten the verses for it
SM Fantastic - i always thought that was their best song
MB So if you're listening Mr Leiber and Stoller - please give us permisson.It's fantastic. About when she was a kid and being taken to the circus and all - well, Eve has rewritten it, Eve is the lady who wrote the Vagina Monologues and she has rewritten - we explained the show and the character and she's - it's just amazing - she just writes like it's a conversation  - it's wonderful, so we're hoping we can do it.
SM So it's much more than just a concert
MB It's not a concert at all
SM It's a one-man show
MB Absolutely.I kind of knew - that everybody, be they fans or critics or ordinary theatre goers would be coming to the theatre expecting something from me and I want everybody to leave going: Wow, we really really didn't expect that. I hope they go, wow we didn't expect that and it's brilliant.
SM And just to clarify, it opens at the Donmar on the 17th of September and it runs for two weeks - now if it works there are you going to take it elsewhere? 
MB If it's got legs, absolutely.It's er, we're sold out now which is great, so I know we've got an audience and I'll just, if there is an interest and if  I can see a way of moving it - It's specifically for the Donmar space, if there's a way of finding a space where it could work in elsewhere.
SM Do you have a director on it?
MB Yes, Jonathan Botterell, he's devising and directing. I worked with Jonathan on Passion initially and we've formed this great triumvirate, myself and Jason and Jonathan.
SM Something that's very good about you in concert -....... when you do a pop concert there's a sense in which you proselitize for musical theatre to a very different audience who might not normally
MB and it works, indeed it has worked, so that the fans that come to the shows  say well we liked those soings and quite often I'll put together pieces of shows and they'll go along and see the shows and say Thank You for recommending them,
SM Going back to the Centre Stage CD, another number which we're going to hear now is the Biy From Nowhere, from I have to say a not very successful..
MB Dreadful show.
SM You've been very clever on the CD about finding often good songs from bad shows
MB And isn't that a sad case that,. I remember when I first heard The boy from nowhere and I thought this is a fantastic song, the show is gonna be a  wow. I went along and it was dreary,but t's always stuck with me, the song and it's nice to find. To be honest I wasn't all that big a fan of Rent but Seasons of Love I thought when it opened the second half,this is a terrific song.
SM I once put together with Andrew for Sarah Brightman a CD we callled Songs that got Away and they were entirely great songs from flop shows.We were amazed what choice we had.
MB And they get lost.
Well this one hasn'tt and you're back here next week on Broadway, good look for the Donmar and the CD.    

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