From Hairspray to demon cuts: why Michael Ball had to play the barber

~ Louise Jury, London Evening Standard - 23/02/12 ~

West End star Michael Ball has revealed he feared no one would cast him in the role he was desperate to play - so he fixed it himself.

The performer best known for the song Love Changes Everything and stage hits from Hairspray to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang told Chichester Festival Theatre he wanted to play Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

He called Imelda Staunton to recruit her as the pie-maker supreme, Mrs Lovett, in the dark and witty Stephen Sondheim musical.

The pairing proved such a hit last autumn that the show was voted best regional production at Sunday's Awards and arrives in the West End next month following rave reviews.

Ball, 49, said he suspected that no one else would have marked him as a candidate to take on a show which he described as "the King Lear of musical theatre". "I don't think anybody would have cast me. It is as polar opposite as it comes for the man who was Edna Turnblad in Hairspray to come back as Sweeney Todd," he said. "Perhaps they wouldn't have thought I would have had the gravitas to do it." The critics agreed that he could - even though the role was harder and darker than any he has played before.

"It's the most challenging thing I've done. I've never known anything like it," Ball said. His physical transformation from smiling and popular singer and TV presenter to bloodthirsty murderer is accomplished with little more than the growth of facial hair.

But the beard proved a sufficient disguise to baffle some fans in the Chichester run, who failed to recognise him and demanded their money back from the box office.

"People were complaining all the way through the production, 'Where is he?'" he said. Exactly the same happened in Hairspray - although at least in that show he was dressed as a woman which went some way to explaining the confusion.

He said he hoped that the Tim Burton movie version of Sweeney Todd starring Johnny Depp meant that the musical was better known than when it was last in London. But he added that Depp's were "big shoes to fill".

Sweeney Todd previews at the Adelphi Theatre from March 10

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