When I started writing this review, I was scared. The show was so packed ..... However I started and it became quite a fun thinking so deeply about the show. Although it left me now the the urgent wish to see the show again. I think I am addicted (LOL you knew that already? right, but this time not completely to Michael, but to the show). But beware, these are just Julia's and my thoughts, maybe you will think this is all rubbish, but nevertheless I hope you will enjoy reading it a bit as much as I enjoyed writing:
Fabulous, wonderful, magnificent, outstanding, terrific, brilliant, unbelievable, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.... No word I have heard so far can be suitable for the week that just went over, for the things I have seen on stage, before or afterwards. More than three years ago I learned to know about this Michael Ball. Since then my life changed and in the meantime I thought this Michael Ball could not surprise me too much anymore. How wrong I had been! The whole man is a constant surprise! He left me speechless (that is something!!!) and breathless more than just one time!
I have thought hard about how to do this review. This show was something so special and I just know that nothing I can do will do the show justice. But you know me, I won't start now: well it is getting difficult so I won't do it. After all, you can never do Michael justice by purely writing about the magic he spreads during a concert, a show or just through standing at your side.
During the whole week I have spoken to so many people about the show. I know there were people who did not like it at all, but I know there were at least as many people who loved it, but there is one thing we all agreed about. How on earth can you do a review? Before I went to London I have not read just one review, I stayed away from everything that was about the show. That was the reason, why not one review could be found on my website so far. It was not a concert and therefore I wanted to get the feeling myself. I did not want to have my prejudices, or rather other peoples prejudices. I still have not read any reviews and I won't do so until this one's finished, at least until this first part just about the show is done. I thought the best way to do it might be, just starting off with the show in general. Please bear in mind, that I did not take any notes during the shows and I have to rely on my memory, which seems to be blank considering the order of songs. Still I want to have a try and give you my subjective view of the show.
Michael leads us through the life of a singer, whose story he tells us by song. Of course compared to his concerts and to most musicals I know it's a rather heavy show. Musicals mostly make it so much easier, the usual musicals, cause this one was certainly a one-man-musical! In usual musicals you have different characters and different actors who do it, you know who is who. Michael did not give us this easy way and I am thankful for it, though it makes life much harder for me now ;-). All that is following now are the interpretations of me and Julia with whom I talked for hours just about the show, we both had our ideas, and shared them, but of course these are just our ideas and maybe it would be best to talk with Michael about it.... honestly, this would be my biggest dream at the moment. Sit down with him and just talk about the show. I remember olden school days, where I had to write reviews about poems, about stories and the main question always was: What did the author want to tell us? Actually I never cared. Most of the times I just thought I was writing rubbish and making out intentions where the only intention of the author might have been to write a story to earn some money with it! In this case I love thinking about it, talking about the show and thinking of what this song wants to show us.
I should put a big warning here: This is just my interpretation and other people might think it is complete rubbish. I am sure there is more than one way to get it.
Jason Carr enters the stage firstly. He starts to play the tune of "Don't look at me" on the piano and after a few seconds Michael enters the stage through the audience. He is wearing light blue jeans, a white shirt with the first three buttons open, which is not tucked into the trousers and a black needle stripe jacket. He places the bottle of water and the towels he got with him in the opposite corner at the back of the stage, straightens himself and turns to the audience. The moment when Michael Ball stopped being Michael Ball for me and started to become the character he played! He seemed to be an actor who was auditioning for a part, feeling bitter, not knowing if this was the life he wanted to lead. Being deadly cynical by singing "I am so happy I came".
"I've been thinking about what I wanted to share with you this evening. I want to take you on a journey, a journey of a life. I'm sure it's a thread well walked by many others...." .Please always bear in mind, we are actually not talking about Michael Ball here. I fear some people might too easily forget this. Michael was in character and though there might seem to be some parallels between some of the songs and Michael's life, after all it is NOT Michael. We are led through this life how it is for the person living it. With all the ups and downs, the pros and cons of being an actor. He shows us, life as an actor is not just glamorous, there is far more to it and there are bad times.
Sometimes you wonder why this person decided to become a performer. Everything just seems so wrong. This does not seem to be the life the person wanted to live, but why? Michael brings us back to the childhood of this man. In "Little Pal" he is the father of the main character, who is talking to his son. He kneels down to his son and you see the character can only be about four years old. Being obviously drunk this man speaks to his son, telling him he did not have an easy start and his son should become what he could not have been. He pleads him to become a happy boy and have a better life than he had, he should be nice to his mum and do what she wants. Being completely devastated he pleads his son finally to pray for him every now and then. This father left his son, how we never really got to know, maybe it was suicide, several things speak for it.
He takes us further on this journey, which shows how his mother left him, possibly due to death. And it deals with having to grow up early, having to be an adult before he really had the chance to be a child. The character is very cynical, when he lights his cigarette and reveals parts of his attitudes to life. We are told about how he was a little boy when fire broke down and his mother carried him out of the burning building and after the fire was gone, he thought: "Is that's all there is to a fire?". When he was 12 his mum brought him to the circus, like he said the greatest show on earth. And he loved it, but then it was over and again he wondered: "Is that's all there is to the circus?". Then the story of his life follows. He fells in love head over heels and tells us how they used to walk on the riverside and shared hours and hours just gazing into each others eyes, he was so deeply in love. Then his love left him "And I thought I'd die. But I didn't die. And when I didn't die I wondered: Is that all there is to love?". This song is very cynical. Life does not seem to have any worth for him. No matter what happens, how great, how bad it is, how happy you are, how sad you are, it does not really seem to matter. The world won't stop turning. You won't stop living. Everything for him just seems to be so useless. It's kind of the old question, why are we here, what is the sense of life, and there does not seem to be an answer. As an observer you start to think, why don't you finish it then. Everything is just so useless, so why don't do it now. The character seems to read this question in our minds. Suddenly he interrupts singing and says: "I know what you are thinking: if that's the way he feels about it, why doesn't he end it right now. No, not me. I'm not ready for the final disappointment (yet) ... for as certain as I'm talking to you I know when the final moment comes and I breath my very last breath I'll be thinking: Is that all there is to life?"
Life does not seem to have any worth for him, at least he is not able to grab it. At this period for him the sense of his own life seems to be to show everyone off, that there is really no sense in living on. He is on his constant journey on his constant thrive to find a sense in his life, although he tries to appear as if he thinks there is nothing... He is not that cool. He always seems to hope, someone might convince him that there is a worth, but for him he does not see it. He is always the little boy that is searching for love, for a person caring for him, for a reason to go on and not only to show he is just so right about his negative attitude!
His mother finally leaves him as well, you can only guess she died. And after this very sad song, dedicated to his mother and his father, who both left him, there is a twist in mood. Letting "I got no strings" follow, shows again his attitude. Very cynical and sarcastic he seems to have overcome the grief about his life and about the loss of his parents. He claims he is free now, he has no strings on him and can therefore do whatever he wants, trying to be cool and getting with the flow. When no one cares how my life turned why should he?
This song being taken from Pinocchio seems to reveal the most important question of this story. How do I become a true human with feelings and the ability to be happy and love? Not merely a being, not only exist but live. The thrive for being happy is shown several times. He falls in love and when he does he fells in love head over heels. For a short time, he seems to have found this sense in life, but then he looses it again. So he finally decides, it's not important what comes next, he just wants to live each moment and wants to do his job. After all "There's no business like show-business". Quietly he seems to have thought about it and slowly comes to the point, that he can be happy. He is doing a job, but who else gets this recognition? In what other job can you feel like this? A perfect ending for the first half. He has found a kind of sense, is it real? Is this a basis to live your life on? Well we don't know here, but for sure we will find out.
Re-appearing in the same clothes, just wearing now a smoking jacket and a bow tie. The clothes show he is the same person, has the same attitude, not too much has changed in him. But he is successful. Through a medley made up of estimated 50 songs, he shows us his tour through the USA. He is successful and professionally his life could not be better. But is this the real life? Showbusiness is an illusion! Can you built your life on this, can this make you happy? Nevertheless, Michael got rewarded after this breathtakingly medley of songs, with an equal amount of cheering and applause. He deserved it so much! His character was living this pure success, that became bigger and bigger. More and more shows and his life became hectic. He could forget everything that was missing in his life, but just as long as he was on stage, just as long as there were people cheering. The inevitable cut was shown, when the lights faded. The spot showed Michael sitting on the stage, looking lost. He took off the bow tie, folded it and seemed close to tears. He lived the illusion far too long and now that there was a moment of peace of quietness, he was alone again, no one to turn to. The sense of life this cannot be! The last lines were: "I was born to make you happy". Michael showed such an expression on his face, so close to madness, if not already mad, that it just showed the contrast between reality and the fiction the character made of his own life.
He seems to think of the relationships he had. It was nice, they had a good time, but every time something happened and he lost it. Finally he has no one to turn to. He sits on stage, lost, takes off his jacket and throws it into the corner and it just seems to show: I don't want this anymore. He feels his "Solitude", but what can he do about it? He gets up again, getting the jacket on again and there is a ray of light. He fells in love, but cannot admit it at first. He never seems to have been in love really. Was it love before? He is now:
I hear singing, but there's no one there
I smell blossoms but the trees are bare...
With the look of madness. He does not know these feelings and the extraordinary performance of Michael, just shows us how much he fears for his sanity. Finally he really understands his heart wants to show him something, but what? The pure joy, when he is dancing around the stage feeling nothing but pure love that makes him so happy is infectuous. You cannot help, but smile and hope and pray, he might have found the sense of life now. He is in love and happy for the moment, but then all these doubts come again. He was happy already in the past, but each time he was something happened, something bad and everything took the worst way. He does not seem to be able to accept this in the first place, can he be really happy? He seems to doubt it .... and whatever has to happen it happens. This love breaks again and he is completely devastated.
Now there was this last sense in life. He thought he might have found it, and now this sense is gone again. "What now my love?" that is the question he asks himself. She left him and he sits there, getting drunk and drowning in self-pity. He shows clear suicidal tendencies. He tried and tried and tried so hard and all he got from life was disappointment and unbearable pain. He cannot take it anymore and with an unbelievable sound of pain.
Everything so far was in the past and now he is standing there, looking back to his life and wondering why his life turned like it was. He remembers himself being happy in the past, he remembers "He was a bundle of joy, when did he turn into me?". He found out, he is the only person who directs his life, not everything is just as bad as it was and he finally discovers what it is that makes the life worth living. It was not all the peoples fault that everything went bad. He learns now "You're all that I know ...Oh, this is how I always lost you". It was his fault. He lost himself in his relationships, he gave too much, loved too hard and put all his hopes in them. But this is not how love goes, it is giving and taking and he slowly seems to realise this and more important he seems to be willing to change his life. So there is a big ray of hope. There might be a way life might go on and he might find a way to get happy!
This is when "the ball is over", and the story is finished. And what about the answer to the meaning of life question? well, not even Michael Ball or his character can give it I'm afraid. But his finale shows that there is hope that we may find it. Everyone for himself. It is alright to be afraid of live sometimes and it is alright to feel overwhelmed. We just should never forget that live is precious and a gift. Although it's sometimes hard to handle. Please regarding the last bits, remember I do not have a song list, neither did I take any notes during the shows! So there might be that I mixed up the song order a bit. So please be patient with me.
What else can I say about the show. First of all. My sincerest congratulations to especially Michael, Jason Carr and Johnathan Butterell. The show was very impressive and having to say that. I have seen it altogether six times and my highest respect to people who could review it with just seeing it once. I still have the feeling that I did not mention too many things, or did not show my respect.
I left out for once, how important the light show was. I think I still have to see it very often that I will get everything, each purpose on each light. For example that each time he spoke to a person - so to say - he looked directly into a spotlight.
This is my general interpretation of the whole show, but I omitted so many things that would have deserved to find deeper interpretation here. Michaels acting was just fabulous. He pulled you through a rollercoaster drive of emotions I seldomly saw. You felt pity for the performer, who had the great job, but there was something missing. You suffered with the father who left his son and just wanted to shout at him, not to do it. You felt for the son, who was left by both parents. You were happy when he was happy, when he was in love. You lived the sorrow, when he was left alone again. You laughed at the cute amorousness, that he could not realise himself. More than once, you just wanted to go to him and comfort him. This was the first time I saw Michael really acting live and honestly, if left me with one big wish: to see this man finally one day in a straight acting role. I know he is able to do it and I am so eager to finally see him in something so completely different.
Never in this week, did I leave the theatre the same way. Each time I discovered something new in the show. I changed my opinion about things, Each time I had other songs stuck in my mind, that kept repeating themselves. There are so many things I want to see again and I still feel, that all these times I had seen the show, are not sufficient. I am really happy there will be a time that I will get a video of this. And who knows: Maybe when I will see it again, I will say so much of what I wrote is rubbish, though I don't believe it. I am sure there will be new things I have not really seen then.
What I am really looking forward as well, as listening to his voice again. Actually I don't know how he managed. I am no singer, in fact I am the most away from being a singer that I can be! We should all pay our deepest respect to this Michael Ball! I don't know how he managed to do such a perfect show for 12 shows with just one day off in between and even managing to move houses during that time and still being on such a top level. He delivered at least through the second week that I had seen such a brilliant show. His voice was on top and the whole show consists of a fabulous mixture of showstoppers, quiet and sad songs. Seldomly have I seen such a exhausting show. And I think with the length of the show and the length of the run he has reached his limits. Besides being a great performer altogether Michael Ball is just a human being and I cannot imagine he could have done the show like this for another week, not without risking his voice.
We started with the shows on September, 24, the second Monday. Third row at the side. Speaking for Julia and me, our jaws dropped open and never closed again for the whole night. I should say, Michael wore a tiny mike at his ear, but it cannot really have been on I have to say. I think we have heard him for the first four nights without much support. Otherwise I cannot explain, why I could hear him sing perfectly well, when he was singing into our direction, but when he turned to the other side, he got perceivably quieter! This changed during the last two nights, I have to say, but this was no miracle. They must have turned up the volume of the mike. The first nights I could barely hear when he lighted the lighter for the cigarettes, but it got very loud in the last two nights.
His shows have been a constant climax until Thursday. He got better and better and if I had to choose, I would say the Thursday was probably the best night, although I should not say it. He had done the shows on Monday and Tuesday, on Wednesday and Thursday there had been the recordings for the video that is due for release later in the year. Before he had to rehearse and then do the show. On Thursday he performed like there was no tomorrow. The only problem: there was a tomorrow and a day after tomorrow. No surprise that his voice was really in trouble on Friday night. It was hoarse from the beginning. I better not know what fights he had to suffer and it did not become better after the interval. He had to struggle very hard. As far as I heard the loud and the silent notes were not the big problem, but rather those in between that were on talking level! I think he took a great risk, singing there that night. It cannot be good for his voice, therefore I think we should all be really thankful for him not to cancel the show.
I don't know what he did to get his voice back in order until Saturday, but he managed, and the show was certainly among the top three I have seen. Great is not it? I have seen it six times and cannot really decide between Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
The most strange thing though I saw on Friday night. Before we always sat at the sides. That night, was our first sitting in the centre of the third row and all I can say is that it was even so much better and the feeling was so much more intense, than the nights before. You hardly get me crying and when I was the nights before only on the edge of crying, I had certainly tears in my eyes this time! I don't know what made the big difference there. Maybe just the fact I could see his complete face here most of the times. It was just so touching!
Besides an extraordinary Michael there are other people who have to be mentioned. Jason Carr. I have to say I have never heard his name before, which does not have to mean too much, cause I am really not that much into pianists. He was brilliant and I could not believe my eyes, when I discovered on Tuesday that he was playing the piano, the whole show without any score! He knew it all by heart and I don't want to imagine how long he and Michael had to rehearse for the show. Mr. Carr was just brilliant. Johnathan Butterell did a great job as director.
Despite all this, I should especially mention the lighting. I did not include it so far, because I know I could not do it justice. I am sure once I will have the whole show on video, I am sure I can finally see all the little, but important details. Each time he was talking to someone, like his mother or his love, he directly looked into a spotlight. The way the lighting was at special moments, just everything. I am really not able to remember most of these things good enough to go into detail.
All I can say is Michael has outdone himself. Doing the Donmar was certainly a brave decision, cause it marked his comeback onto the musical stages. It might sound strange for a fan like I am and maybe it is not on me to say this, but rather to Cathy, his family and friends, but I have to say it: Michael I am really proud of you. You took a risk and for sure it was a risk to do this show, because no one could have foreseen how it developed, how it would be received. It would have been so much easier, not to do it and just go on with doing usual concerts, CDs. And for my money it was very well worth it.
I am quite sure, no: I know there are people who don't like the show. Of course we cannot all share the same tastes. That would be a very boring world. I loved it and thought it was something really fantastic and if this is something he wanted to do for the longest time as he said: well Michael which more ideas do you have that you might want to realise?
I cannot wait for the show to be released on video in about eight weeks time like someone at the Donmar mentioned. It is a truly great decision to publish this extraordinary show. I cannot wait to see it again. In fact I have no clue how to survive till then. I am eager to discover even new things to see what I might have not seen, slipped through my fingers.
Thank you so much, Michael! I am sure whatever your plans for the future are, be it with this brilliant piece of work or something completely different, you can reach everything you want! And I am happy I was in the lucky position to see this show so often!