Artisteer

Woman in White

~ The Stage - March 2005 by Mark Shenton ~


When The Woman in White premiered in the West End last September, I wondered aloud just why the producers had gone to the trouble of hiring Michael Crawford - one of the biggest, and no doubt most expensive, names in musicals - and then buried him unrecognisably in a fat suit. I even suggested that they could have had Christopher Biggins and saved on the transformation budget.

But with Crawford's prolonged indisposition from the show, a significant coup has been magnificently achieved by having Michael Ball stand in for him now. Ball - who came to fame playing Marius in Les Mis on this same Palace stage - gloriously completes his journey from juve and romantic lead to ornate, hilarious character actor here. He is, if you'll pardon the pun, having a ball in the process.

There are several layers to the joke he is playing on the audience here and we relish in the process. “No opera star, my voice is thin,” his character declaims early on but the fact is, it is anything but. While he proudly boasts of a gift for living well, Ball has a rare gift for singing even better.

Then there is also the character's fabled corpulence that necessitates the fat suit. But instead of disappearing into the costume, he inhabits it like a comfortably added layer.

And while he is now playing Fosco, the show reunites him with the Fosca of one of his previous West End outings - Maria Friedman from Sondheim's Passion. Their characters' passions are once again mismatched but here he reveals a hitherto unseen talent for light comedy.
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