Songfest with twinkle
~ The Daily Telegraph, 20/09/2001 by Patrick O'Connor
MICHAEL BALL enters from the back of the theatre, and some of his devoted
admirers give a little gasp of surprise. Here he is so close, with nothing
but a bottle of designer water as a prop. There is no preamble, no speeches
about the audience being wonderful, or any introduction to the songs.
It's straight in with No, Don't Look at Me, from Follies.
Before the song is half over, he's moved on, and what makes this evening
into more than just a star trawling through the highs and lows of 100
years of musical theatre is the shyly self-deprecating twinkle that he
brings to the whole event.
Some of the effects that Ball uses are still calculated for a space a
lot larger than the Donmar. In Padam, Padam, Norbert Glanzberg and Henri
Contet's 1951 hit for Edith Piaf, the shouts and foot-stamping could be
Still, it's a finished artist who can make something new of There's No
Business Like Show Business, sung here very slowly, almost as a lullaby
until the inevitable wow finish.
Towards the end of the first half Michael Ball lights a cigarette to
punctuate a nostalgic reflection on the disappointments of youth. A section
of the audience seemed to find this hilarious for reasons that were not
clear, but a concentrated stare from their idol quietened them down.
In grouping songs, vaguely themed to a life story, Little Pal, The Man
That Got Away, Alone Together, and many others he concentrates the listener's
attention on the words. He has developed a fine use of mezza-voce to contrast
with the occasional return to pop-style belting in What Now My Love?
The highlight of the evening is the opening of the second half, a hectic
songfest, snatching phrases from about 50 standards to make up a collage
of verbal and rhythmic nuances.
It's a sort of tease, as one longs for him to finish some of the songs
he just touches on. He is accompanied with tremendous verve and quite
daring pianism by Jason Carr, whose arrangements are often surprising
in their spareness. Not an evening designed to flatter the tastes of the
fans who come in specially embroidered jackets and T- shirts, but a real
attempt to get to the heart of each song.
Until Sept 27. Returns only: 020 7369 1732