Review written by Debbie Norris:
The concert began early for me. Opening my hotel room window just after 4pm, I heard the muffled strains of Can You Feel the Love Tonight emanating from the building which partially blocked my sea view. So Michael had arrived at the Bournemouth International Centre, and was in rehearsal for the first of his five Christmas concerts.
Straining to listen as the rehearsal continued, I was delighted to make out Lift the Wings (which he'd never before performed), Walking in Memphis , If Tomorrow Never Comes and Love Changes Everything . No big money note at the end - he was clearly saving himself for the concert. What a way to whet my appetite!
Other songs were rehearsed too, but I just couldn't work out what they were. Surely I was familiar enough with all of Michael's records to recognise them. Not if they were new, of course. And it turned out many of them were. With only five concerts I hadn't really expected Michael to create such a new programme. I thought we'd be treated to a re-run of something along the lines of the summer concerts, with a sprinkling of Christmassy numbers, but no, Michael pulled out all the stops and has included a lot of material that he's not performed before, including songs he's never recorded.
We took our seats in the front row - my first time in the front! Eventually the band and backing singers took their places. Good to see all the usual suspects in place. Callum McLeod struck up with a dramatic start, and Michael emerged for an uptempo start, with Bruce Springstein's Dancing in the Dark , followed by a new song, Get on With Your Short Life . Dressed in casual black trousers, white shirt and black jacket, Michael joked that the dance classes (in preparation for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ) were taking their toll, but he is clearly thriving on them, and looks slim, fit, healthy and gorgeous.
The bluesy feel of Walking in Memphis followed the romance of Can You Feel the Love Tonight - never try to categorise this man!
A sad personal note followed, as he dedicated Lift the Wings to his recently departed "best mate", Yogi, who died earlier in the week.
The first half was largely filled with dramatic and emotional songs, including If Tomorrow Never Comes , and a selection of songs from musicals, with the common theme of dysfunctional relationships. Another new song to Michael, High Flying Adored began this section. Clare Moore joined him for You and I . He left the stage to Clare who gave a powerful rendition of one of my favourites, Being Alive (Sondheim's best song written for a man, Michael?). Michael returned to the stage for Send in the Clowns, Empty Chairs, Empty Tables and closed the first act with Love Changes Everything - including the money note!
After this emotional onslaught, time for a breather before we were hit with a succession of show-stopping numbers. The first two being greeted with standing ovations. Since watching Michael perform This is the Moment at the Olivier Awards in 1995, I've hoped he would one day perform this number again. That wish came true in Bournemouth. It's perfect for Michael - powerful and dramatic, with an opportunity to really open his lungs and give it his all. And he did!
How do you follow that? If you're Michael Ball, with something of equal magnitude. As soon as he introduced the song as one from Centre Stage which was fast becoming a favourite, I guessed it would be The Boy From Nowhere . Another standing ovation was richly deserved.
Two songs from Alone Together were adapted for performance with the orchestra. He talked about the show he performed at the Donmar Warehouse, about the way he used different kinds of songs to tell the story of a performer's life, and chose to sing two songs from different genres to illustrate the range of music from the show. Another prayer was answered as he launched into Padam Padam . Having performed this at the Donmar just to the accompaniment of a piano, I was keen to see how it would sound in a different setting. The orchestration provided a sound reminiscent of the Parisian boulevards of the Edith Piaf original.
The second number was David Bowie's Life on Mars - a very different sound and feel. In Alone Together , the character is devastated at the ending of a relationship, and sings this in a very cynical and angry way, feelings Michael brought out in the concert.
A change of pace came with another of my favourites that I've never before heard Michael sing live. He introduced River by saying that his experience at the Donmar had given him a taste of singing just to the accompaniment of a piano, and Geoff Eales alone accompanied him for this beautiful, wistful number. A word change provided an interesting slant. Instead of singing "she loved me so much" he sang "she loved me so naughty", with an appropriate expression at the memory. Interesting! I'd love to know why he decided on that!
Clare Moore returned to the stage for Phantom of the Opera . Michael, as the Phantom, sensually 'controlled' Christina, brushing his hand against her hair, her arm, and standing behind her, willing her on. Off for a brief rest as Clare once more sang solo, he then returned as Raoul for All I Ask Of You . As she left he blew her a kiss, and thanked her for joining them on the tour - or 'tourette' as he called it.
Looking forward to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang , Michael said he lived the film as a child, and is really thrilled that he has the chance to create the stage role of Caractacus Potts. A taste of what is to come was given with the lullaby from the show, Hushabye Mountain . This suits his voice perfectly - such warmth in that golden voice! It was only when it ended that I realised I'd been crying. Not because it's sad, but because it's so beautiful.
Something Inside So Strong created another change of pace, before Michael announced a selection of Christmas numbers as the festive season is fast approaching. Another new one to perform: When A Child is Born was stunning. Then up for the party - including me. This was the first time I've ever been strong enough to stand up for the entire ending of a show! The band donned reindeer antlers. Anne, Mick and Shena put on Santa hats and tinsel, and Father Christmas himself turned up to give Michael a big white fur coat. The tinsel fell as we sang along to I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday and Merry Christmas, Everybody .
Leaving Christmas behind for a moment, Michael sang If I Could Dream and ended the night with his (and my) favourite Christmas song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas .
It was a great show, with Michael in fine form, taking us on an emotional journey, and one I won't forget in a hurry.