Past and Present Tour

~ The Scotsman by Josie Balfour - 01/10/09 ~

MICHAEL BALL is your mother's dirty little secret.

He's the strapping, insouciant young chap that's suave enough to sweep her off her feet while she's daydreaming over the ironing, yet unthreatening enough to introduce to the family over Sunday lunch. And, to top off the mid-afternoon Mills and Boon fantasy, he can't half sing too.

Arguably the West End's biggest star, Ball has spent the past two decades building a solid career in musical theatre with starring roles in Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

His most recent part, as Hairspray's Edna Turnblad, saw him win an Olivier award for Best Actor in a Musical.

Returning to the Usher Hall for his first one-man concert in the city since 2007, Ball brought with him an eclectic set of aural delights as he celebrated 25 years in musical theatre last night.

Taking to the stage with the support of a 12-piece band led by musical director Callum McLeod and a quintet of gifted backing singers, the performer opened his two-hour set with back-to-back disco favourites.

Beginning with his own take on Kiss's I Was Made For Loving You, Ball's deep, powerful voice engulfed the room making easy work of Paul Stanley, Desmond Child and Vini Poncia's dramatic score and effortlessly segueing into the key changes necessary for Donna Summer's Hot Stuff.

Without pause, Ball moved swiftly into familiar territory with his 1992 Eurovision entry One Step Out Of Time before shaking the running order up with Human by post-punk group The Killers.

Melding the songs together with more of a gentle nudge than a push, the orchestra's up-tempo pace and unique adaptations had the welcoming audience nodding and clapping along, particularly as Ball's rendition of Queen classic Don't Stop Me Now began.

Returning to the genre that made his name, Ball showcased the talents of his backing group with Rent's ensemble piece Seasons of Love before leaving them to introduce a medley of songs from Jesus Christ Superstar as the interval loomed.

Commencing the second act with a series of crowd-pleasers from Starlight Express, Ball stopped to explain some of the choices in the evening's programme and chat genially to the audience. Peppering the final hour of the show with anecdotes and conversational introductions, he performed both his signature song from Aspects of Love, Love Changes Everything, and a moving rendition of The Winner Takes It All.

Using Abba as a convenient point to detour from musical theatre once again, Ball included a toe-tapping tribute to Vera Lynn with an experimental version of the Andrews Sisters' Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy featuring joint male and female harmonies in his running order, alongside a Rat Pack rendition of Mack the Knife.

Ending the evening with a trio of hits from Hairspray, a sea of admirers surged to the edge of the stage as Ball launched into You Can't Stop the Beat. As he belted out the final songs, much of the audience gave him a standing ovation, stamping and clapping for an encore. Leaving the stage for the last time he gave fans a cheeky wink and promised to bring Edna Turnblad back with him to Edinburgh next winter.

5 stars

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