MICHAEL BALL: Spotlight on Ball
~ California Chronicle - 29/08/09 ~
Music Week talks to Michael Ball about fame, ambition, theatre and TV - and what's next for him
You found success young and have been here ever since. It looks like you have not struggled much - is that fair to say?
There are going to be periods where things haven't succeeded as well as you might have hoped, but you put a spin on them and you learn from them and you don't bleat about them. You try and just go onto the next thing, and there has always been something that has come along.
I think there is a danger in neglecting a particular side of your career if you aren't careful and you spend too much time doing other things. But at the same time, I don't think I would have had quite the same following in the theatre if I hadn't made records and done concert tours. I think those things all feed each other.
You must need particular qualities to perform in hit musicals on a nightly basis.
You do. It's how you tell professionals from amateurs, because you have to be really disciplined and pretty tough. You have to stay healthy, you have to stay focused, you have to learn how to deal with the repetition of something over and over again. The pacing of yourself, the understanding of what it is like to be in front of an audience every night, to acknowledge and realise that you are vulnerable. It all comes with practice - you learn how to deal with that, how to respond to it and how to actually enjoy it. But because of the nature of the show Hairspray is, I never once got bored.
You did have episodes of anxiety early on. How did you rise above those?
When it happens, you can never make it un-happen - it is always going to be part of you. You are always going to be aware that you have had a vulnerability, that you are susceptible to those sorts of things. Everybody in showbusiness gets nervous; everybody gets stagefright to a lesser or a greater extent. Or at least I would hope so, otherwise they are in the wrong business. Ultimately, it makes you a better performer, it makes you a more understanding human being. If I'm run down or stressed out, I'm still susceptible to it, but I cope with it privately. I just don't go out for a few days, I don't inflict myself on people.
You have enjoyed chart success, but it's fairly obvious you have not chased after hit singles.
I think I have got a good instinct for a song, it's just hearing them first and being in that situation where you are A&R-ing properly. A song such as Love Changes Everything was written for the show I was creating, and I was surprised it was a hit, because it certainly wasn't a song that was typical of the charts at that time. It wasn't even a typical musical theatre song.
Speaking of which, the West End is particularly thriving at the moment. It is as healthy as it has ever been. I look at the current state of TV and how revenues have dropped so badly there, and it makes it all the more impressive that theatre is doing so well. I think there is always going to be a place for live performance and there is always going to be a place for theatre.
Why is now a particularly good time for musical theatre?
Tomorrow I am going to see Billy Elliot for the first time. I know it is five years old, but that is a fresh show, which shows that new stuff is being created, even though the old masterpieces are still doing good business. A lot of the success recently is down to things such as High School Musical and the movies that have come out of Chicago and Hairspray, but also the reality shows, which have absolutely helped.
You are not a purist when it comes to recruiting talent through TV competitions, then?
As a punter, I love watching it, I get as engrossed as everybody else. As far as the people who have won those programmes, all of the winners, be it Jodie Prenger or Connie Fisher or Lee Mead, all acquitted themselves brilliantly. They did the shows and they performed well. My gripe with reality TV musical shows is when they feed into cheap productions where it is a cynical money-making exercise for the producer. Where it is just a cheap rehash of a 20- year-old touring production, I think it is a rip-off and it does the theatre a huge disservice.
Do you have any particular shows in mind?
I'm not going to be specific... I don't know if you have seen Grease? [laughs] When you go and see Oliver!, whether you like that kind of thing or not, you can see it is a brilliant show. They quite rightly paid a fortune to Rowan Atkinson and they spend a huge amount on the production, and it is musical theatre at its best.
Are there any parts you particularly fancied but missed out on?
If I was really honest, there was only one that I was really cross I didn't get seen for and would loved to have done, and that was [Rodgers and Hammerstein's] Carousel. They did it at the National Theatre [in 1992, directed by Nicholas Hytner] and they wouldn't even see me for it, and I was really pissed off about that. In the future, I still want to do [Stephen Sondheim's] Sweeney Todd one day, and I will do that. I think it is a masterpiece.
It is surprising that the West End, for all its success, does not produce more star names.
Producers should invest time in creating stars but they tend to shy away from it and I think it's foolish, because if you get the right title with the right star name in the right theatre and it is a good production, you have always got a really good chance of succeeding. There is no guarantee that you will, but the odds are there. In order to become a name that could go above the title, I had to go away from the theatre and do other things. I had to make the records and do the concerts.
Is it that producers do not want to let the star become bigger than the show?
Yeah, and it's foolish. I say it's foolish, but then again, I suppose I would say that, wouldn't I?
You have done a certain amount of TV over the years. Have you got any ambition to do more?
I would like to, but I have no burning ambition, and I think there's so much rubbish on there. I am always talking and saying no to things on telly, because there are only so many hours in the day. But I am always open to ideas and to doing things, and if the right thing comes along, absolutely I will be there.
You do not seem to be driven by desperate ambition.
I don't have any need to be a celebrity. I'm not interested. I'm interested in being proud of the work I do, and I am. I like what I do. I don't need to be recognised. I mean, I still am, but only really nicely. I never want to be fodder. I'm not interested in being in newspapers or Hello! magazine - never done that, never fancied it.
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