The first Act flew by and felt like it had only lasted about 15 minutes. But in actual fact it had been about 1.5 hours long! To think many of the current “stars” are only on stage for 45 to 60 minutes this truly was value for money.
The second Act started just like this years’ tour did. Adrian, Soophia and Alice stood on the platform serving as the back wall of the pub (please read all about the staging in the blog about the first act or you might think, what on earth have they drunk?). Adrian started his famous solo of The Lion King, which lead to Michael’s interpretation of “Circle of Life”.
As we already had our Les Mis section and the Andrew Lloyd Webber section there was no doubt he would treat us to a Stephen Sondheim section. He started it by giving his all singing “Being Alive”. This is always special. Another song he has made his own and we could not think of anyone who can do justice to this (literally, as he said once) breathtaking piece of music.
Afterwards he spoke about doing Sweeney Todd and that it was a dream come true but also how he would be cutting throats during that next song. He looked at the front row, spotted Kerstin and asked her to watch out for him. Needless to say Kerstin was glad he did that being Michael Ball and not being Sweeney Todd in his “Epiphany”-state of mind. Back then he had been so extremely menacing, that we would not have guaranteed for anything really.
“Pretty Women” was linked to “Not While I’m Around” as has become a concert classic. It’s still shocking how completely different you perceive these songs when they are not in the context of the show.
We just knew this had to be the moment Imelda had to be introduced and had to get on to the stage. However, no such luck. Michael said Imelda was so very sorry. She really wanted to be here, but she just could not make it. However, she had kindly sent her husband Jim Carter as we have seen earlier …. And then you heard gasping and shouting from backstage. Imelda dashing on stage, seemingly out of breath, declaring she made it, she just about made it.
Michael and Imelda teased each other a bit before Michael declared they would soon be working together on a Victoria Wood (“who is in tonight!”) movie (based on her play) as “Enid and Tubby”. “I am not Enid” commented Michael much to the delight of the audience. And remarked that they had to discuss this title! They then launched into a hilarious rendition of “Making Whoopee”. What a privilege to see the dream team reunited again. The chemistry is just right between them and nothing beats the banter of seasoned performers in a good mood.
Afterwards Imelda shooed Michael off the stage (him muttering “the story of our lives”), grinned a menacing “Finally the stage is mine” and then gave a fabulous interpretation of “You are my Sunshine”. This arrangement was extraordinary. It started off quite sad, almost melancholic and then evolved into an amazing upbeat number (which we are actually still humming today, three days later). We were, are and will always be huge Imelda fans and this appearance only cemented that.
Once Imelda had left the stage, Michael announced a very special guest, someone who has never been on a West End stage before and would now be giving her West End debut. 10-year old Cara from Feltonfleet School. Her parents contributed so much to Shooting Stars that Michael granted Cara her big wish to sing a duet with him on stage at the Phoenix Theatre.
He asked Cara on stage and she was just angelic, as she got up there and stood center stage next to Michael. She looked petrified, the poor lamb, and who could blame her! All those people staring at her… But you know Michael; he did the talking and did everything to make this a good experience for her. He even knelt down next to her. He talked with her for some time and then asked her to give him a hand and help him up as he’s so old, which she did. Then he stepped aside for her to have her moment in the limelight. Although she must have been dead nervous, she suddenly started to sing the first verse of “Silent Night” and we were stunned. It was perfect! What a strong, clear soprano! And everyone who ever tried singing this song knows it is one of the hardest Christmas songs there is when you want to do it properly. For the second verse Michael joined her and the backing vocals supported their performance. At the very end of the song Michael motioned his backing singers to stop singing and stopped himself so that Cara could shine alone for the finale. This seemed to take her by surprise and she stopped as well for a second, but he quickly joined in again (true pro that he is) and she shone for those very high notes at the end. Naturally we all gave her a standing ovation for this brave and beautiful West End debut. A truly magical moment.
After this Michael kept the Christmas spirit up by singing one of his favourite Christmas songs, “River” by Joanie Mitchell. Now this is not your classic happy go lucky Christmas song, as you will all know. But why not allow a more pensive Christmas mood every now and then? He sat down on a bar stool for it and it was a wonderfully peaceful moment in the show.
With enough tribute paid to the time of year he introduced Alice back onto the stage and the mystery about her former-duet-turned-a-Michael-solo now was solved: She had a new duet with him. They would be singing “The Prayer” together. Now, we know that Cathy always wanted him to sing this song and he doubted he could do it justice for a long time. Well, everyone lucky enough to have heard him sing it live will know that these fears were completely unfounded. We have also never heard Alice sound better. They really nailed it. What a powerful song! Michael beamed at her afterwards and we could hear him say “amazing”. Actually this was one of the best bits about sitting so close to the stage and the performers: you get to hear the quiet exchanges that are not being said via the microphones. We could hear him humming along to the music at parts or say the odd quiet praise for the guests that are not meant to go out via the speakers. You also hear the actual voices and not the amplified ones. We love this, as it feels more real somehow, more intimate. It feels like being on the stage with them, part of the action. We never before heard the sound of his stamping his foot during Sunset Boulevard before, for example. This time, we did not only hear it, but felt the vibrations of the stage. He always does it but you just do not hear it transmitted via the speakers at a tour concert.
After this brilliant duet followed a real test for the (regular tour) audience: “Don’t stop me now” has been the introduction to party time for many, many concerts. It usually means you should get up and dance/run to the stage at a certain point in the song. We could almost feel people itching to get up. But as he has not invited the audience, everyone stayed in their seats and wriggled away sitting down. It took a lot of willpower though. Wonderful to watch (especially the dancy bits) naturally. And what a feel-good song this is!
After that he rewarded the obedience of the fans and invited everyone to come to the stage and party. For us this meant simply standing up, but the aisle soon filled with party people who came rushing to the front. Happily we all punched the air to “One Step out of Time” and danced along to “You can’t stop the Beat” (the latter with an extra reprise of the chorus at the end as a bonus).
The final song was another classic: “The Wonder of You”. He gave our little group the ultimate high when he shook Helge’s hand during the line “You’re always there to lend a hand” and then he moved away and got to “And when you smile the world is brighter” smiling in the other direction, slowly walking over to her and after winking at Angela he knelt down and kissed her at “Your kiss to me is worth a fortune”. We are not sure that she has floated back down to earth yet! LOL It was priceless to see this. So much joy caused and he had so much fun!
That was officially the end of the concert. Michael left the stage, but as we all know, the concert will never ever be really and truly over until he has sung “Love Changes Everything”. We did our part of the bargain that is to clap, cheer and basically go mental, begging for an encore and eventually he obliges and returns. This evening was no exception. Mind you, the place did go wild! We rarely heard a more enthusiastic crowd.
He thanked us all for the fabulous evening and said he was so proud that the following song was chosen as the background music for Shooting Star Chase’s latest video. He would have loved to show it to us, but unfortunately the theatre did not have screen . The first notes were played and we knew he’d sing one of our favourite songs of all times: “Run”.
Now, we already mentioned, how you can listen to a song forever and it has a special meaning to you and then you put it into another context and all of a sudden it gets a whole new meaning. This is exactly what happened with “Run” for us. Think about Shooting Star, about a hospice for children with severe and life-limiting illnesses. Think about that one sentence Jackie Llewelyn-Bowen said at the very beginning of the concert: Many of those families present will spend their last Christmas with their child this year. Now turn to your computer or your CD player, put Both Sides Now on and switch to song number 9….
Hardly anyone could escape this sad notion. Least of all Michael, who was so extremely overcome with emotion at one point that he seemed a bit lost and relied on Soophia to find back into the song (for us that only meant that the song went on for longer, no one who is not very familiar with it will have noticed the repetition) . With tears in his eyes he finished the song and he surely was not alone. Definitely the emotional highlight of the evening. It took him a moment to compose himself again for the last song of the night.
Michael thanked everyone who contributed with their time and efforts. He thanked especially Cathy and Callum. Michael claimed all he was doing, was showing off for a couple of hours, but the real work behind the show had been done by Callum whom he asked to the front for a well-deserved round of applause. Michael told us, that every single penny we have spent there (tickets, programmes etc.) would go directly to Shooting Star.
“Love Changes Everything” was the perfect closing note, of course. The title says it all. How very appropriate. The evening was such a well-balanced affair. You never forgot why we were all here and yet you never felt hopeless either.
His friends and guests finally joined him for the final verse of the song but he caused a lot of relief among them when he said “I’ll take it from here” and stood the money note alone.
It has been the most amazing concert but we know we say this after every concert. He just gets better and better. It is true and if you do not believe it, come and see it for yourself.
All the guests and the casual setting changed the energy from “usual” concerts. We also loved him doing some completely new material mixed with old favourites. It was just the perfect mix. Not too many guests but those who were there really added to the magic of the night. What a wonderful end to an amazing year!
We went round to the stage door, waiting to wave Michael good-bye for one last time this year and hoping that it won’t be too long until we see him again.
We did not have to wait too long, until he appeared. We thanked him for a truly special evening and he commented that we should have seen the rehearsals. Apparently he really feared for the worst before the concert began. But he was really pleased with the result as he joked that tonight he really was jealous of us all and would have loved to have been in the audience himself just to watch the show.
Michael introduced little Grace and Connor (who was almost as tall as the man himself!) to the crowd and asked who had been there in Nottingham the night Connor was born. No one replied. “And you call yourself fans!” he chuckled.
Connor’s birth actually did coincide with our first Michael experiences but no one of us was there on the actual night. Julia had seen Michael for the first time that tour at the Royal Albert Hall before Connor was born, Kerstin saw him a couple of weeks later for the first time in Amsterdam, and the bunnies’ paths crossed about 7 months later. So, when this tall teenager stood next to us, it was incredible to see how long we have been doing what we do (and we still feel like newbies compared to many of our friends who have known him for all his professional life).
So thank you Michael for another fabulous year and thank you for the fabulous send-off into the Christmas season. We will be missing you very much, but hopefully not for too long. Here’s to 2014, another year, another show and at least one new character we will be getting to know.Permalink
After a wonderful dinner with friends we really found ourselves in the theatre, knees almost touching the (not too high) stage. Usually this theatre is the home of “Once – the Musical”. The musical uses only one set: an Irish pub. The look is very cosy and homely with lots of small framed mirrors on the walls and it’s a rather small stage. What is amazing about Once is the change of perspective (and for us this treat for the audience was worth the admission price alone!): you actually have a fully functioning bar on the stage that the audience can use to buy their pre-show and interval drinks! We have seen the show recently and though we didn’t buy a drink we joined the people milling around the stage and enjoyed the view that is otherwise only reserved to West End performers. It was fantastic. So we knew what his perspective would be for the concert and how far he would be able to actually see the audience (about four or five rows back, but of course this was with the lighting for the musical). Needless to say the bar was not open for the concert (and could not have been, as they had build a podium in front of it for the musicians of Michael’s band and Callum), you could still see a lot of the walls and it added to the intimate feel of the place.
Finally the lights were dimmed, the audience went quiet and we heard a deep voice announcing “Directly from Downton Abbey – Myself!” Massive cheers and applause for Jim Carter, husband of Imelda Staunton and known to the wider public as the butler Mr. Carson in the widely successful TV series Downton Abbey. A consumed actor he most charmingly did the introduction for tonight’s events and had the crowd in stitches in seconds. Even a bit of Panto atmosphere came up. He received the most rousing reaction of course and seemed to enjoy himself immensely. He went on to introduce Laurence and Jackie Llewelyn-Bowen, who are Patrons of Shooting Star Chase like Michael. They reminded us of the good cause we were supporting, informing us that the money earned that night would be used to buy two buses which were necessary to drive the children from home to the hospice and to hospital appointments. They reminded us what Shooting Star Chase meant for the families and how many of those families would experience their last Christmas with their child. Some of those families were present on Sunday and received the warmest round of applause possible. It was a touching speech by both of them, making it apparent that this charity was really close to their hearts. And how couldn’t it be? What a worthy cause. For us it is so hard to imagine the unimaginable, so their speech made quite clear what the evening was all about and that while we were having a wonderful night out, others were going through the hardest time possible. A very humbling thought and we were thanking our lucky stars that we were not in this position. But it was inspiring rather than depressing, if you know what we mean. They told us about how much our contribution would help to make life a little easier for the families and what a wonderful person Michael was to organise this event from scratch and making it possible in the first place.
The tone was set for the night to come, when Jim Carter announced Michael. The place almost exploded. You could tell everyone was keen for the evening to be a roaring success and most fans hadn’t seen him for a while so there was a definite party atmosphere in the air.
The music started and we were happy to recognise “Dancing in the Dark”. A song he had sprung on his poor backing vocalists the day before and they were still learning when they arrived for the rehearsal. They did very well, of course. And we felt reminded of many happy tour concerts that opened with this upbeat number. Everyone got to their feet and danced along to Michael. He wore jeans, a dark blue shirt and a dark blue crushed velvet jacket with black (or even darker blue, hard to tell) lapels. He later commented he didn’t know what he was thinking to go for crushed velvet as it was so hot on stage…
It was great to hear “Fight the Fight” again sung by Michael. The night before we had heard the musical version in “From here to Eternity”. This has to be the only song known to mankind that is much faster sung in the original version than by Michael. The song felt really rushed in the stage show but this is probably because we are so used to Michael’s version by now.
This was followed by “Bad Things”, which has a special place in our hearts it was as always performed sufficiently naughty to make us question our dress choices as well (too hot indeed!). He followed this with “Won’t let you go” which until then has been merely one of the more up-tempo numbers on the Both Sides Now album that we have enjoyed immensely on tour. But he gave it a completely different spin by merely saying how the lyrics matched the cause of this night perfectly. It’s amazing, how differently you can conceive a song and its lyrics in different circumstances. With lyrics like this: “If your sky is falling, Just take my hand and hold it, You don’t have to be alone, alone, I, won’t let you go.” and “And if you feel the fading of the light, And you’re too weak to carry on the fight, And all your friends that you count on have disappeared, I’ll be here, not gone, forever, holding on.” there could not have been many people left without a lump in their throats.
There is the danger of an evening like this to turn into a very somber affair, but this was definitely not intended and did not happen once. It was more like a celebration of all good things in life and made you remember to give your loved ones this extra hug tonight.
When Michael introduced the next song we had a broad grin on our faces as we knew at once which one it would be and hadn’t heard it in ages. He said it became his and Cathy’s song, when they were separated for the first time for a longer period while he was on Broadway doing “Aspects of Love”. (Yes, we are sure many of you will also know which song it was. Everyone who was at the This Time-…It’s Personal tour will know). He said that Cathy had been the driving force behind their commitment to the charity and without her we would not be sitting there tonight. So it was just appropriate he dedicated “If tomorrow never comes” to her (she was in the audience, as was most of his family). It is such a beautiful song and again mirrored the sentiments of the charity perfectly of course.
Afterwards Michael introduced his first guest to duet with him. She was now living in Los Angeles and had flown over especially to take part in this concert! Imagine that! Julia Fordham entered the stage and Michael said he had had a major crush on her when he was younger, well not that big a crush! he quickly amended with a glance in Cathy’s direction and said he’d be in trouble otherwise. We had quite a laugh. Michael told us how he had joined Julia on stage for her recent London concert and how they were going to reprise their duet for us. They flattered each other for a bit and she finally said how excited she was to be singing with him tonight, to which he replied “I wish I was you – then I’d get to sing with me!” Much laughter was followed by the most beautiful rendition of “Where does the time go”.
While pouring himself something to drink he asked, if we’d like to hear something new and only got a lukewarm applause. So rather not then? He remarked and chuckled. However, many of you know Michael had sung “Stars” from Les Mis in Shanghai and we had high hopes he would sing it again this night as it received such a rousing reaction from what we heard. And we were not disappointed. When we heard the first notes of “Stars” played we knew we were in for a very special treat and by God did he deliver! Should anyone ever search for a definitive version of this song, surely Michael’s has to be a strong contender (poor Russell Crowe, bless him).
His voice was perfectly suited for it thanks to his new lower register and once the last line was sung, the audience jumped to their feet and treated him with one of the most well-deserved standing ovations ever! And we wouldn’t sit down again quickly. He was completely overcome. Having closed his eyes for the final notes of the song and only slowly returning to the present, he was visibly surprised to see every one standing for him. He was literally taken aback, as he took a step backwards. As he has never been too keen on the song this seemed to have seriously taken him by surprise. People went completely wild. It was wonderful! And we have heard many, many renditions of “Stars” over the years, honestly nothing ever came close. This was utter perfection. Those long, low notes – shivers down the spine. He enjoyed his special moment, smiled and said “We might have to keep that one!” We surely hope so!
Empty Chairs followed and what a beautiful rendition it was. Very tender and very passionate. But we were a bit distracted by him singing it while still standing centre stage. We are SO used to seeing him sitting on a chair during the song that this was somehow striking.
For the final Les Mis number they made clever use of a little trick the set had to offer as during “Once” the back wall of the pub serves also as a raised platform and you can stand on it, high above the stage. So when the opening notes of “Do you hear the People sing?” sounded we saw Alice, Soophia and Adrian standing high above the Ball in the back. It was a beautiful picture not to mention the beautiful sound of course. Lovely to see Michael do the marching in place they do in the stage show at this point.
Were we up to some Andrew Lloyd Webber, we were asked? But of course, Mr Ball. The Phantom of the Opera overture rang out and we are forever hoping he would follow this by actually singing “The Phantom of the Opera” as this is such an energetic number. Or even “Music of the Night” as he does it so beautofully, but as suspected the thundering chords soon made way for the softer tones of “All I ask of You”. He sang it but this time as a solo and not as a duet with Alice like he used to during the tour. This was intriguing of course. He was not to take away her song, surely?
He then sent Adrian out onto the stage and we were treated to his rendition of “Close every door to me” followed by Soophia’s fantastic “Don’t Cry for my Argentina”. This launched straight into Michael’s rendition of “Memories” which was linked to “Sunset Boulevard” just like in the past tour concerts. We LOVE this new interpretation of both songs. Simply stunning. We actually catch ourselves holding our breaths for the final note of Sunset Boulevard. Talk about money notes!
Michael then asked, if we were up to hear him sing something new, something he has not done before, but we’d all know very well. We cheered him and were eager to see or rather hear what was in store for us, when he quickly crossed himself, sending a last minute prayer to the god above. Surely it cannot be that hard to sing, whatever he’s up to, we thought. And anyways, he had the crowd eating out of his palm. Definitely no need for nervousness. But that’s what marks the true professional: He wants to deliver 100%.
“You’ve lost that loving feeling” by the Righteous Brothers was the brand new song and when we reached the chorus Michael was joined on stage by The Overtones. It was a fabulous rendition and Michael really did not have any reason to fear it, as we knew.
Michael started to explain how the Overtones had come to join him for this concert tonight. He said he had heard them perform on Radio 2 that very morning and tweeted them and somehow the ending of the story was lost, when he drifted off into another direction but we assume that they very spontaneously agreed to appear on the very day of the concert after some to and fro tweeting and so had not had much time to rehearse together.
He owned up, that they rehearsed the following song a full half time, so really hoped it would work. He needn’t have worried a wonderful medley of “Bare necessities / I want to be like You” from the Jungle Book sent us partying into the interval, which came much too quickly.Permalink
Seven months is a long time. It may not sound like it and the words look inconspicuous enough when written down like that: seven months; but, believe us, they can feel monumental. The last time we were lucky enough to see Mr Ball perform was the last night of the tour in May.
Yes, we know, many, many fans cannot go and see him at all and we really should just count our blessings and shut up BUT when concert after concert is announced and you cannot attend a single one of them, this becomes extremely hard. Especially after having had a rather Ball-filled time before with Sweeney and the tour. So we could not attend any of the summer concerts (they are always on Sundays and our holiday allocation had dwindled too much to take off Monday after Monday) OR travel to Abu Dhabi OR see him perform with Imelda at Sadler’s Wells OR fly to Shanghai. And from the reviews we gather that we have missed out on some very special nights. But we digress. All this is to say: we really have missed those money notes. Dearly!
So you can imagine how excited we were when we heard about his charity concert for Shooting Star / Chase.
After the excitement (and signed holiday forms from work – YAY!) comes inevitably the dreaded ticket sale: You know the drill, get the computers ready, ask your colleague to stand in for you for a couple of minutes, check out from work and wait for the tickets to go on sale at 10am our time. So when the seating plan opened on screen and we clicked on the front row seats (centre, 4 of them, as we were booking for friends as well), we were sure, we’d lose them before the transaction was finished but we didn’t! Needless to say the confirmation email was one of the most thoroughly scrutinized digital documents of all times. We kept opening it, checking date, time, seats and the word STALLS umpteenth times. But eventually it sank in: we had front row seats (no such luck for the tour) in the very intimate setting of the Phoenix Theatre. We would indeed be seeing him again, up close and personal. It really was true. Life was good.
Saturday: Travelling to the UK and “From Here to Eternity”
We surely have our reputation when it comes to our travels. Unfortunately, this is no exception. Just one day after the heaviest storm in 40 years to hit Germany and indeed the whole of northern Europe we were bound to embark our flights. We kept checking the airport websites anxiously throughout the whole two days of severe storms – miraculously all flights to London were on time in Berlin and Dusseldorf. Nevertheless we were relieved we had booked flights for Saturday noon and not Friday evening. The weather had quieted down considerably and everything was super…except….
Bunny 1 arrived at the airport in Dusseldorf in good time just to be told “You do know the flight is severely delayed, don’t you?” “Uhm, no! For how long?” “1.5 hours at the moment, but the computer of the Air Traffic Control has crashed and as of yet (9am in the UK) no plane has left Heathrow Airport. So you might expect long delays.” Brill, there goes our Christmas shopping. My departure time went from 10:50am to 12:50, back to 12:10, when we actually did board.
By this time the other bunny reached her airport in Berlin and was asked by the check-in clerk, if she really, really needed and wanted to go to London today? “Uhm, yes, I do!“ Places to go, shopping to do and shows to see, so YES! A big fat YES to that. The clerk still advised to change the travel plans and fly at a different day. Her eyes were full of pity and somehow this was not an altogether reassuring start to the journey.
Unfortunately, once the first bunny was on board and in splendid mood we were told that yes, we are boarded, but due to the technical problems we got a later slot and won’t be able to leave for another 1.5 hours. Apparently we were kept on the plane in the hope we might get an earlier departure slot. That didn’t happen. Rather dishearteningly it didn’t look much better in Berlin. All afternoon flights were canceled, one after the other. BUT our flights were not. Silver lining etc.
To cut a long story short, instead of getting on the tube at 2pm, we only got there at 4pm and then the tube journey to Kings Cross took 2 hours instead of the usual 55 to 60 minutes. There went our Christmas shopping and card writing. The only thing we had time for was rush to the hotel (we will spare you the lament of our abysmal lodgings…), get changed, rush to the Shaftesbury Theater and grab your seats in the second row for “From Here to Eternity”. So at least this time we did not miss the show we had booked. But instead of it being a day of leisurely (Christmas) window shopping in the splendidly decorated London, we were completely stressed out and exhausted. Not a single pressie bought, no festive feeling had, no photos of decorations taken.
Now, on a more positive note: Being back at the Shaftesbury Theatre felt like coming home. How many happy hours have we spent in these two rows enjoying Hairspray? Not nearly enough, surely but quite a few. It was a warm and fuzzy feeling all over. Naturally the show we were about to see was of a very different mood to Hairspray, as you would expect when the subject is the attack of Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Being in the theatre almost felt like being a Michael event as we saw several fans in the audience before the show started.
The show itself was great. Good music, good acting, great look but of course, very sad. You know all the characters are doomed so it is not uplifting. In the interval we spotted Tim Rice and several notices announcing parts of the show tonight would be filmed. We wondered what all this was about until he walked onto the stage in the finale and made a speech about it being the anniversary of Pearl Harbor (7 December 1941) and to mark this sad day the Military Wives (a choir of soldiers’ wives) would join the cast for the last song of the evening. They sang beautifully and it was a very emotional end to a very emotional day…