It will be the most successful musical we have done

~ Chichester Observer; 16/07/2015 ~

Even before it even started its run this week, artistic director Jonathan Church was confident: “I think Mack & Mabel is going to become the single most successful musical we have ever done.”

Jonathan who will be directing the show, cautions “There are still a lot of tickets to be sold.”

“But it is a combination of the musical, of Michael Ball coming back (to the CFT) and an absolutely-phenomenal advance.”

It all began with Michael and Jonathan discussing what Michael might do next, following Ball’s huge success in Chichester with Sweeney Todd a few years back.

“Michael doesn’t ever want to stand still. Before Sweeney Todd, he was a woman in Hairspray and now Mack in Mack & Mabel is completely different again. In some ways, it is a much more conventional romantic lead.

“Sweeney Todd was virtually a sung-through musical. Mack & Mabel in many ways is a much more conventional book-led musical. Michael hasn’t really done one like this before. A lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber has done were much more musically led. This one is much more book-led.

“It is a challenge for him. He is not a psychopath as he was in Sweeney Todd: he is not a woman as he was in Hairspray. He is playing the romantic lead, the love interest, this pioneering film producer who finds the love of his life.

“My journey with the piece goes back to a production at the Nottingham Playhouse. The show didn’t transfer, but Torville & Dean watched the production and took one of the numbers for one of their shows. I said to Michael that I had seen this production when I was 14 or 15. And he said ‘Do you realise who was playing Mabel?’ I said ‘No’ He said ‘You idiot! It was Imelda Staunton!”

Imelda Staunton who was Mrs. Lovett opposite Michael in the CFT’s Sweeney Todd: Imelda Staunton who enjoyed huge success in Gypsy in Chichester last year and subsequently in London.

Which is actually part of the point of the role. Mable is the classic discovery role, as Jonathan says. It’s the role in which you uncover a star of the future, just as Mack himself did in real life.

“Imelda was just emerging when she did it. The story that Mack finds this girl and turns her into a star. We had a look in England and we didn’t find anyone who was exactly what we wanted, and so we took the search to New York where we found Rebecca LaChance.

“You just can’t really put your finger on star quality, but she had what we wanted. Mabel was a tragic star in real life and died tragically. You need someone that can play the love interest, be charming, funny, witty, but you also need someone who can be a tragic heroine. Rebecca just convinced us that she had all those ingredients.

“And she and Michael just have a chemistry. It’s a difficult relationship, a tempestuous relationship. It falls apart. The bond between them is challenged by everything.”

Michael has noted it’s a musical which hasn’t really ever enjoyed the success it ought to have done over here, Jonathan agrees. He’s sure it’s time has now come.

“Like anything, it is a combination of the right moment, the right actors, the right people … in the same way that Gypsy hadn’t happened in the West End for 40 years. It’s about the right combination of two actors, and we are doing this now with Michael who I believe is absolutely the perfect person to play the part, and not just because of his voice.

“Really, you need two things for Mack. You need someone who is going to be brave enough. Mack is like a lot of film producers – someone that is not the easiest person to get on with. He is very driven. The pioneers carved Hollywood out of the desert. They made the industry that we all know and love. It didn’t exist before them. They made it exist, and they didn’t do it by being polite. You need for Mack an incredibly-tough exterior, but the other thing you need is to be able to charm the audience.

“One of the issues when you are playing a monster is how to do make him attractive as a love interest, and I think Michael has got the right balance. It’s a bit like Higgins in My Fair Lady which is often cast with someone that can sing a bit but is not a brilliant singer. But with this Michael can bring to it an incredible voice – which is very much needed. Michael has got the ability to sing the most romantic ballad and the ability to really act. He really has got all the right ingredients.”

Mack & Mabel is at Chichester Festival Theatre until September 5.

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