Songfest with twinkle

~ The Daily Telegraph, 20/09/2001 by Patrick O'Connor ~


Michael Ball


MICHAEL BALL enters from the back of the theatre, and some of his devoted admirers give a little gasp of surprise. Here he is so close, with nothing but a bottle of designer water as a prop. There is no preamble, no speeches about the audience being wonderful, or any introduction to the songs. It's straight in with No, Don't Look at Me, from Follies.

Before the song is half over, he's moved on, and what makes this evening into more than just a star trawling through the highs and lows of 100 years of musical theatre is the shyly self-deprecating twinkle that he brings to the whole event.

Some of the effects that Ball uses are still calculated for a space a lot larger than the Donmar. In Padam, Padam, Norbert Glanzberg and Henri Contet's 1951 hit for Edith Piaf, the shouts and foot-stamping could be toned down.

Still, it's a finished artist who can make something new of There's No Business Like Show Business, sung here very slowly, almost as a lullaby until the inevitable wow finish.

Towards the end of the first half Michael Ball lights a cigarette to punctuate a nostalgic reflection on the disappointments of youth. A section of the audience seemed to find this hilarious for reasons that were not clear, but a concentrated stare from their idol quietened them down.

In grouping songs, vaguely themed to a life story, Little Pal, The Man That Got Away, Alone Together, and many others he concentrates the listener's attention on the words. He has developed a fine use of mezza-voce to contrast with the occasional return to pop-style belting in What Now My Love?

The highlight of the evening is the opening of the second half, a hectic songfest, snatching phrases from about 50 standards to make up a collage of verbal and rhythmic nuances.

It's a sort of tease, as one longs for him to finish some of the songs he just touches on. He is accompanied with tremendous verve and quite daring pianism by Jason Carr, whose arrangements are often surprising in their spareness. Not an evening designed to flatter the tastes of the fans who come in specially embroidered jackets and T- shirts, but a real attempt to get to the heart of each song.

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