never having to find the money
Love Story opens in the West End tonight. Here Michael Ball, the producer, recalls its journey from cinema to stage
~ The Times - 06/12/2010 ~
On a break in West Wittering, where I have a home, I take Cathy, my other half, and my mum to see Love Story at our local theatre in Chichester. I'm not sure I'm going to enjoy it because of the subject matter and because it's a bit of a busman's holiday, but I did love the film. It was on telly over Christmas when I was 12 and I sat there with my family and cried my eyes out.
we are blown away by the show. The performances are outstanding, the music is great, and the story is handled with wit and dignity. It's affected us so deeply because Cathy's sister, Angela, died of ovarian cancer. When you've witnesses how cancer invades and destroys families, this musical is so moving. It's been cathartic for us to watch this together. There wasn't this overhanging air of sadness throughout the piece. It was just a beautiful, life-affirming love story. It was very funny, too.
I call my friend, Adam Spiegel, the show's co-producer. He says he's thinking about taking it into the West End. I tell him he must. Adam asks me if I will come on board as co-producer and I think. "Wow, yes. What a fantastic opportunity." I'm an associate producer of Hairspray, but this would give me more creative responsibility. It will be my first time as a full producer. Bring it on.
I'm in Manchester for three weeks for Hairspray, but I talk to Adam and our other co-producer, Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen, daily. Stephen is the calm one while Adam makes me laugh. when Adam and i started working together on Hairspray we were quite wary of each other: he thought he was asking too much and I thought he was underevaluating me. Then we discovered we had a similar sense of humour and we've been friends ever since.
If there as a disagreement between us all, we'd probably defer to him. We all get on really well.
it's like doing a huge jigsaw puzzle: booking the right theatre at the right time, making sure the actors we want are available, getting the director on board and opening before Christmas so we can cash in on the buzz of the Chichester run. It's up to us as producers to work on budgets, get investors and pay the bills. i've invested money as well as time because I feel passionate about this, but Adam is dealing with most of the finance. It's hard when there isn't a lot of money around.
I'm concerned I've taken on too much. Two days a week I'm recording my new ITV chat show and every time I return to the dressing room there are 30 new e-mails about Love Story. I can't stand e-mails. I see all these smiley-face symbols and I don't know how to judge the tone. I like to see the whites of people's eyes. In between fiming I have meetings about the Love Story rehearsal timetable. I meet marketing companies, consider proposals for an ad campaign and worry we don't have enough money. We look at poster ideas and go back and forth agreeing and disagreeing with each other. One idea is to have a picture of the specific actors. I don't want that. I love the idea of portraying a couple, any couple, jjust starting their life together. They could be sitting on a bench anywhere. It has to be classy and not sensationalise the story. One of the tough things about being a producer is taking the plunge. I meet Howard Goodall, the composer, and Rachel Kavanaugh, the director. We all want to keep it to one act.
Back home, i discuss my role with cathy. We decide I have to cancel something if I'm not goign to be overwhelmed. I'll be dropping out of concerts in Australia scheduled for October and november. It's not an easy decision because I've been planning to return to Australia for years, but I find it clears my mind and fires up the old positivity.
Rachel, Adam, Stephen and I meet up to discuss the cast. We have the odd shouting match, but we all have the same goall. It's crucial that we get the four main characters right. I'm glad that three of the actors from Chichester have been available: Peter Polycarpou, Emma Williams and Michael Xavier. I've admired Emma since we worked together in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang eight years ago. She was a vocalist on my last tour. I've known Peter for ages, too, we were in the original cast of Les Mis togehter. And I worked with Michael on Sunset Boulevard. I was a bit concerned at first how michael and emma get on in the lead roles. On stage they can be prickly with each other, but off stage they're terribly close. It must be interesting for their partners seeing them being so sparky together on stage.
I'm back at the BBC on Sunday mornings doing my live radio show. I'm there at 8.30am looking at the papers, drinking coffee, going over the script, running through questions for that day's guests and discussing details with my producer. I'm on air from 11am to 1pm, then I like to go home and cook an enormous Sunday roast. I've been told that I've got to take a break.
It's a really busy time for me. I've been doing the television show and the radio show and I'm also meant to be recording my album. I've been meeting ticket agents for Love Story, something I've never done, trying to get them to do deals for us. There's a big meeting on Monday to discuss the final stages for the show. I have to learn that everyone must be allowed to get on with their role after that. I'm just there to advise and encourage and oversee. There's a lot of trust involved. I'm geating up to the first day of rehearsals, which is at the beginning of next month.
There's so much to think about, like how everything's goign to fit on a smaller stage.
I go to the first day of rehearslas. It's in a dodgy church hall in Kennington, South London. It's one big meet and greet, and it's exciting. I hear a sing-through and a read-through. There's a good buzz going around. The frustration for me is that I have to go to Dublin for two weeks to do Hairspray. It's an absolute nightmare. While I'm away I'm pestering people on the phone trying to organise opening night. I'm getting rehearsal reports from Hannah, the company manager, every dayabout what changes need to be made and how everyone's getting on. These reports are guarded secret between the production staff.
Hairspray is full every night. The audience are mad for it. I get sick on the opening night, so I'm constantly running off stage to the wings to a bucket. But I refuse to miss a show.
I arrive back in London for the previews and do as much press as I can. I'm on Breakfast on BBC One and doing a load of plugs on radio. the Tube strike is a bugger. It means i arrive at the first preview one minute after it starts. I've never been as angry and frustrated in my life. But I'm soon caught up in the show. It's the first time Cathy has seen Love Story since Chichester. she is so excited for me.
I make myself sit in the worst seat in the house so that I know what all the problems are. There was a sound isssue I want investigated, but what I was thrilled by was the audience reaction. At the end of the show, I heard all these snivels. It's a terrific sign I'm really proud of my debut as a West End producer and I definitely want to do another. But nothing could ever stop me from performing.
Love Story is at the Duchess Theatre to April 30 (lovestoryonstage.com 0844 4124659)