Liverpool Summer Pops

~ Chris High for What's On Stafe - 21/07/2008 ~

Dressed in a smart pinstripe suit, pink shirt and dazzling tie, Michael Ball took to the stage as a part of the annual Liverpool Summer Pops Festival for a second time, from the top of a steep black staircase dividing his superb fifteen piece backing orchestra.

He then proceeded to entertain the eight or so thousand gathered here, with a style and skill synonymous with Britain's best known musical theatre star of a generation.

It's been three years since Ball toured solo and its not just the man's powerful voice that is impressive – rattling off songs from some of the best known musicals as though he's just stepped from rehearsals – but also the genuine and instant rapport he builds up with his audience that lingers long in the mind.

‘Its nice to have a night off from wearing high heels and fake boobs,' he tells them, referring to his current role in Hairspray playing Edna Turnblad, having just ripped out a version of This Is The Moment at full volume, but if this is a night off others should take a leaf from his book on work ethic.

Suffering from a heavy cold throughout the week, nobody would have known as Ball covered every inch of stage space, singing with consistently high quality and pouring an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm into each one.

Highlights were many, but With One Look from Sunset Boulevard, Oh What A Circus from Evita and Tell Me Its Not True from Blood Brothers were all only surpassed by a truly beautiful version of Gethsemane from Jesus Christ, Superstar, which Ball filled with just the right amount of fear and expectation.

Introducing, Rachel Wooding, Mike McCarthy and Mike Stirling to sing a trio of solos from Les Miserables, including I Dreamed A Dream, Stars and Bring Him Home, Ball rejoined the performance with a haunting rendition of Empty Chairs & Empty Tables, before the quartet closed the first half on a rousing high with a version of One Day More which had the audience on their feet in a flash.

The second half flew past. Stranger In Paradise from his English National Opera production of Kismet and a double from We Will Rock You in the shape of Don't Stop Me Now and The Show Must Go On, had the crowd rocking in the aisles, before Ball remembered which city he was in and divided the audience with a version of You'll Never Walk Alone thankfully close to the Carousel original than to the Gerry Marsden monstrosity that has become co-joined with football.

An emotional Love Changes Everything had the crowd singing along word for word and saw the end of the show proper before finally closing with Wooding, McCarthy and Stirling joining the star on stage again to give a resounding performance of Do You Hear The People Sing, another from Les Mis. Ball was then bowing and waving his way back up the staircase, his face beaming a smile as wide as the Mersey, underlining perfectly what a great time he – and his audience – had enjoyed for two and a half hours.

An absolute quality performance from an absolute star and his companions.

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