Michael Ball: Alone Together

~ by Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times 29/09/04~

Some publicity rumours you desperately wish were true without for an instant expecting them to be. Take, for instance, the idea that Michael Ball – the handsome, hunkily cuddly, vanilla -sexy colossus of current British music theatre – would, in his solo concert show Alone Together in the Haymarket's “Singular Sensation” season, show his “darker side” by performing some Radiohead. Puh – leaze.

I should have boned up on the reviews of this show's original 2001 run at the Donmar. I might even have taken a hint from the inclusion of John Lennon's Mother , albeit without the primal–scream coda. But by the end of the second half opener, a nine-minute medley of more than 30 show tunes, I had consigned the Radiohead idea to the fantasy folder. But wait a minute…what was he singing now to Jason Carr's sparse piano accompaniment? Blow me, it was “Nice Dream” from the album The Bends . That taught me; I did not bat any eyelid later when he belted out a rendition of the first single I ever bought, David Bowie's “Life on Mars?”

It is an astute idea by Ball and deviser/director Jonathan Butterell: a sung-through concert show. Apart from the spoken verses to Leiber & Stoller's “Is That All There Is?” and an explanatory intro, the songs do the talking, about life, love, aging and disillusionment. Most of the material is arranged in segues, some bizarre, as when “If You Were The Only Girl In The World” slides into “I Say a Little Prayer”. But the sequences do work. Through them, we hear narrative, emotional progression, wry comment in the manner of the post-Sondheim American musical (from which genre a respectable proportion of the evening's material is culled).

And though Ball's facial and gestural ranges are not the widest, he puts thought into, and conveys, more than the exigencies of the particular moment in the individual song. Carr's arrangements, too, are quietly audacious. After two hours of such a show, Michael Ball may still not be my particular cup of tea but I realise that I had underestimated him.


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