Michael Ball at Plymouth Pavilions

~ What's on in the South West 11/10/09 ~

Former Plymouth College pupil Michael Ball clearly appreciated hosting the last show of his current tour in the city last night, which, as he pointed several times in the proceedings, was the place where: ‘I grew up and started my little journey.'

Celebrating 25 years in showbusiness, musical theatre's leading man went on to prove just why he stands head and shoulders above the rest, with a set that included many of the songs that helped make his name plus an interesting bunch of covers.

Aided by a super slick 14-piece orchestra and five top class backing vocalists, Michael started with a few ‘warm up' pop ditties – Queen's Don't Stop Me Now and an interesting adaptation of the Killers' Human, showing his ability to keep things fresh and contemporary, if a bit squeaky clean.

Referring to his Sunday morning breakfast show, in one of many amusing asides to the crowd, he explained his passion for introducing his listeners to new music via his ‘classic album track' spot and proceeded to sing us his own choice.

He explained how Supertramp's If Everyone Was Listening, from the album Crime Of The Century, was particularly poignant for him at the time of leaving Plymouth to embark upon his stage career.

So far so good, I thought, having never witnessed the man live in action before.

But then came the moment, when the lights went down as he pulled up a stool and, starting with a whisper, launched into Les Mis classic Empty Chairs, gradually building to unleash the full might of that stunning powerhouse vocal.

As a lump formed in the back of my throat, I started to understand how Michael takes mere musical theatre to another level with a majestic, emotive delivery of almost operatic proportions. This was definitely the highpoint of the evening.

Love Changes Everything, an uplifting medley from Jesus Christ Superstar, heavily featuring the five backing vocalists, proved almost as moving – though I didn't much go for the Starlight Express number, the only Lloyd Webber show he hadn't covered until now.

What was fun though was close harmony emulation the Andrews' Sisters – they called themselves Andrew's Liver Salts! – plus a brave, jazzy, if not quite seedy enough stab at Bobby Darrin's Jack The Knife and even a bit of gospel to close the show.

Given his incredibly impressive vocal abilities, and with so many genres covered I'm amazed Michael didn't have a bash at an operatic aria. Next time perhaps?

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