Review written by Trudy Bradburne:
I think I've used up every superlative in the book in previous reviews but I still wanted to post my impressions of the London concerts, particularly as these will be the last ones for some time.
We left on a complete high on Friday night, the only downside being that we wouldn't be seeing another Michael concert for a few months at least. I had to compare the atmosphere in the audience when we left the theatre with that leaving the Donmar - there were no puzzled expressions or discussions as to what had been the meanings to this song or that song. There were no hidden meanings to the Christmas concerts - they were there for pure entertainment value alone!
I went to both London concerts on Thursday and Friday and the format was much the same, if not identical so far as the songs were concerned. I was a little disappointed that Michael didn't sing "River" but I think Michael wanted to end the concerts on a more upbeat note.
We settled in our places for the concert and although I don't really dwell on it much before the show starts, I always get a few butterflies about five or ten minutes beforehand. The packed audience was fairly quiet before the show started, although you got the idea of what was to come when the band came out on stage. There were the first rumblings of excitement and some applause. Then the lights went down. There were definite sounds of excitement then - some muted and some not! Unusually, Michael was introduced from backstage "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Mr Michael Ball!" Well, I THINK that's what we did! A huge roar went up from all around the theatre when Michael appeared at the top of the steps. As Michael walked down and hit the stage the entire front part of the audience were on their feet and Michael took a few steps back and held out his arms to us in appreciation of the response, which can only be described as a roar. I wonder what it feels like to come out on stage and have a wave of love going in your direction like that?
"Dancing in the Dark" started off the proceedings and the first half was a run through of what Michael called his favourite songs from the past. I am useless at remembering songs and the order they appeared in. I don't make notes, I don't take photos, I don't do anything but sit there and enjoy the moment. On Thursday, Michael sang "Lift The Wings" but didn't mention Yogi. On Friday he said "This is for my little mate Yogi" but very quietly. If you didn't know about the news you could easily have missed it. My guess is that Michael didn't want to dwell on it too much.
Michael sang lots of familiar songs, "With One Look", "Something Inside So Strong", "Empty Chairs", "Walking in Memphis", "Boy from Nowhere", "Can You Feel The Love Tonight", as well as a couple of new numbers - "Lift The Wings" of course and "Get On With Your Short Life". I always like to hear new stuff and I was delighted to hear "Lift The Wings", one of my favourites from the wonderful "Centre Stage" CD, although I would have preferred it in not such sad circumstances.
The words of "Get On With Your Short Life" are excellent and no-one ever spoke a truer word. No wonder Michael likes to collaborate in his song writing ventures with Brian Kennedy. Having said that . the words "does it matter if you're thinner?" have a slight double edge. Well, it doesn't matter if you're thinner but it does matter a bit when you're a performer and you are battling with an obvious weight gain that was afflicting Michael this time last year. He looked uncomfortable on stage at the time and on Big Breakfast just before last Christmas he looked embarrassed about his weight. I've just managed to lose three stone myself so I know these feelings well.
None of that this time though. Michael has not only dropped a lot of pounds but he looks to have dropped several years with them. He looks just great at the moment - he's not thin (thankfully) - he still lovely and hunky, but he is now slim and fit looking.
I know he can't be feeling that great at the moment as this is another area I can identify with him. Having lost a beloved pet this year myself I know he will still be pining. However, like the true pro he is, he put on a happy smile for us and a great show.
Vocally, he is in tremendous form at the moment and closed the second half with "Love Changes Everything", finishing with a note on both nights that you had to hear to believe. It just went on forever!
The second half opened with one I had been waiting for. "This Is The Moment" drew a well deserved standing ovation. I know there has been much talk of Adam Watkiss recently and I've seen him too. He's good. Very good. Some people have said he sings "This Is The Moment" just like Michael Ball. NO. No matter how good he is, there is only one person who sings it just like Michael Ball and that's Michael Ball! Do you know, I think Michael might have put that one in on purpose? I think that's the sort of thing he would do. As if to say "OK, THIS is that song and this is ME singing it". Once Michael has sung a song it's been SUNG and we certainly got the message!
I personally don't believe there is another singer to touch Michael in a live performance anywhere.
Is if that wasn't enough, the band went straight into "Phantom of the Opera" - oh how I love this one! Michael was well into this role with fabulous facial expressions - he and Claire Moore do this together so well. By this time I was almost hopping up and down in my seat. Just as well I knew everyone sitting just behind me - I've no doubt they were thankful I'm so short!
Another two I had been waiting to hear again was "Padam Padam" and "Life on Mars" fresh from Michael's recent Donmar appearances. It was interesting to hear these two songs with a fuller sound and, no matter how good a pianist is, you can't really beat the sound of a full band to enhance a song. They sounded great and were performed in very commanding style by Michael. Another standing ovation followed these two numbers, sung back to back.
Michael then told us (as if we didn't know!) of his forthcoming role in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and how the film had meant so much to him as a child. He sang "Hushabye Mountain", which he told us had been sung to him by both his mother and grandmother when he was a small boy. He told us that he was currently taking dancing lessons and gave us a little demonstration on Thursday, but not on the Friday. (Obviously decided we need to buy tickets for Chitty before being allowed more!) Well, I don't know much about dancing steps but the dancing classes look to be coming along fine! "Hushabye Mountain" was very different from the way Dick Van Dyke sings it in the film - Michael's version is hardly likely to send children to sleep, more likely to have them jumping up and down on their beds in sheer delight! Although it could hardly be termed a lullaby any more, Michael sang it beautifully.
The strange thing is, even when a song is as familiar as "Merry Christmas Everyone", it's only when Michael sings it that you hear the words properly for the first time! Whether it's buried deep in a rock 'n roll medley, sung in a party atmosphere or has deep meaning as with the Donmar performances, you can always hear every single word Michael sings. So it was with the final section of the show, which can only be termed a Christmas Party. Despite the flimsy, fun material of the Christmas songs, I finally got to hear all the lyrics!
Michael announced "It's Christmas!" and on came Santa with a bag of goodies and a top hat with silver tinsel round it for Michael. Michael sang the old Slade number "Merry Christmas Everyone", followed by "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day (the old Wizzard number). By this time all the band members had put reindeer ears on and looked to be having a whale of a time, as was the audience. I had been puzzled by tiny bits of paper that kept landing on the stage throughout the show but the mystery was solved when a huge cascade of "snow" came down on the stage and then over the entire front of the audience. Michael and Santa delved into the bag of goodies and chucked bags of sweets around the audience.
I looked around me and practically the entire audience was on their feet and dancing around. Many people, no doubt given the idea from previous shows, had donned Santa hats, some of them with flashing lights on. What fun it was! It was such a great end to the show. Michael came back onstage to a standing ovation and sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - one of my favourites and one which shows Michael's voice off to perfection. "Hang a shining star upon the highest bow" - how that beautiful voice soars.
We perhaps felt slightly downhearted when Michael said it would be the last concert for some time and he looked a little bit choked when he was saying it. However, we now have Chitty to look forward to in the spring. I know that Michael will do justice to the role. He's a professional and I have no doubt that he is capable of anything he wants to do in the performing arts.
I keep saying it but it bears repeating. You haven't truly heard Michael until you've heard him sing live and you have to experience a live performance to appreciate what a true Master of his art he is.