Like many others we were unsure what to expect from this brand new tour format. Would we see (and maybe more importantly) hear enough of Michael? Would the voices blend as well live as they do on the album? Would the two groups of fans get along? Would they show appreciation for “their man” or both of them?
It’s been the first time in many, many years that we didn’t know at all what to expect in those six shows we booked (by the way, the number of shows is not due to our lack of faith in Michael’s judgment – he has never disappointed us yet – but merely monetarily. You get two for the price of two, not one as reviews happily state, and thus we had to half the number of concerts we normally attend). This, of course, was the whole point of this exercise: to try something new. And boy did it pay off! The album is tremendously successful, even going back to #3 in the mid-week charts when it was on #4 the week before. And booking this tour felt a bit like booking Adele tickets (minus the three hours queue to get through to Ticketmaster perhaps). Even the additional concerts sold out in no time. It’s wonderful to see the two getting all the success they deserve. But we digress.
Our first concert was Manchester on 25 November (Kerstin’s birthday, talk about perfect timing!) and we will stay for what was originally the last week…many, many moons ago. Naturally it is a great shame not to be there for the very last night as they are always so special. But as this merely means they are doing incredibly well with the ticket sales, we won’t complain (too much). We saw him and Alfie arrive fresh from a TV interview and mission birthday photo was accomplished (many thanks, Mr Ball!) and we were actually really giddy when we finally were let into the auditorium (very long queue to get inside the venue). And what a sight the set is! White stage, white grand piano (even the monitors with the lyrics are white!), blood red backdrop made up of a curtain the three large screens and the BB logo in white projected on the red. It looks stunning.
The band includes a string section, too, now and they make the most wonderful sound, very full and slick. Callum is back, of course, but not conducting from the front but at the keyboard as part of the band. Alfie’s MD Murray plays guitar (and is amazing) and is also part of the band.
The open with “Somewhere” and both are off stage for the first few lines and the audiences we have seen have greeted each singer with a massive cheer for his first line. Then they finally appear at the top of their white stairs and the joyride begins. We never knew “Tonight” could be turned into an up-tempo opening number, but oh it definitely can. The golden boys (“Together” has gone gold recently, YAY!) were on fire and you really can tell they are loving every second of this. And the crowds love them back. There is much bromance banter between them and loads of audience interaction. We recommend buying a fleece (you might get a picture or a kiss) or going to the loo mid-show if you want plenty of interaction with the dynamic duo. You get the feeling that anything can happen with those two! A man was made to do a catwalk, parading the merchandise fleece for all of us to admire; the lady next to us needed the loo and was eventually escorted back to her seat by Alfie himself as he went looking for her when it took too long. In Manchester they came down from the stage when an unfortunate gentleman needed the loo and they even took his seat and wanted to sing from the stalls when, alas, he returned. Our advice: don’t be late or leave mid-song if you don’t want their attention. If you do: that’s the best possible means. Naturally this is all done with plenty of humour and laughter. The gentleman who had to parade his fleece was even given a bottle of champagne by Alfie for being such a good sport.
So you have all that the promotion promised in terms of the big BB bromance, but first and foremost you get two consummate artists at the top of their game who do their utmost to entertain us fortunate attendees. The song list is no walk in the park by any means, so a lot of seriously wonderful singing happens, it’s just interspersed with very charming giggle fits (like two naughty schoolboys on a night in town). The sound is very balanced (exceptionally well for a tour, actually) and you can hear both their voices clearly. For us the magic happens when they sing truly together. Their timing is perfect and they are so tuned in into the other that the blend is divine.
The highlights for us are “Gethsemane” (this is a real showstopper, the audience in Manchester wouldn’t calm down for several minutes), the Bond Medley (“Skyfall”! Ball singing Adele, talk about an eargasm…), “A Thousand Years”, the Elvis Medley, the Les Mis Medley….those low notes in “Music of the Night” ever fail to get to us…okay, the whole thing is bloody brilliant. There, we said it.
The only slight criticism: It’s over way too quickly (for us, the two headliners surely disagree). In no time whatsoever they are done with their solos and we are in the middle of the finale. This always comes a slight shock. Time flies quickly when you are having fun.
One thing really is annoying though: When Michael comes on the stage to do “Gethsemane” (all in character, we have never seen it acted out like this, it’s awe inspiringly beautiful) he loosens his tie a little (for those big notes) and invariably some woman or another then feels the need to shout a lewd comment and people will whistle, even when they know the song. And then some people laugh and it really must be hard for him to ignore all that and stay in the mood for the song. So please everyone, hold your horses. There is plenty of opportunity for audience interaction. This just isn’t it.
All our concerns have vanished in smoke. As we said, it’s incredibly well balanced, so you hear both of them clearly, they are on stage the entire time apart from the last two solos, so you see a lot of them and there is no nastiness whatsoever between the two different fan groups.
So if, no, make that WHEN they will be Together Again, count us in. We’ll be the first in the queue to buy tickets (we wish!).Permalink
What a week we had with our Dr. Ball OBE. Can you tell we were rather busy. So busy in fact, that we did not manage to put up even a single blog entry, while we were in Chichester.
Okay, so the good news is we won’t bother you with our travel stories (delayed flight to London, then 45 minutes wait for the luggage etc. etc.), we won’t moan for ages for having missed Michael leave on Friday by a mere 3 minutes. No, we won’t. Instead we will cut to the chase: the stage doors.
One of the questions that’s most people asked was: what about the stage door? Since Sweeney they had a complete refurbishment of the Festival Theatre, meaning some of the outbuildings were torn down and rebuild and the outer area re-structured. They made a beautiful job of it and I am sure the stars of the shows will really appreciate the changes. The stage door area is completely fenced off. There is a small path at the side of the theatre, where the cast can enter by foot and there is a huge gate and drive, leading to a parking area, where Michael (and, of course, every other star they have) can park his car. The fence gives them some security and safety towards overeager fans.
So what is different really? We kept sitting on the benches close to the stage door area and we would see Michael drive around the corner. Then we all walked over to the driveway. He would pull over, lower the window and wait for us there to have a chat. A nice half circle always formed and we could talk to him while he sat in his car. The people who’d want a photo could have one, the same went for signatures and so on. Once the people had it, they would rejoin the circle. It’s always been such a relaxed affair and once done Michael would drive inside and we’d leave him alone. Plus side: there was no pushing and shoving and everyone who wanted to talk to him had a fair chance to do so. Downside: we could only ever see him through the window. Crying shame as he used to wear shorts and trust us, he is looking so slim and trim, we would have given a lot for a full body photo. However, we are quite sure Michael enjoys these “drive-thru stage doors” tremendously as it means, no one is really able to grab him or touch him at places no one wants to be touched at by strangers. Unfortunately there will always be those who get carried away and won’t respect limits.
After the shows Michael usually got out of the side exit to sign stuff and pose for photos. We don’t want to flash him though and therefore don’t have any photos of those occasions. Everyone waiting for him would be served. Then he will get back into the car and drive off and we could wave him good-bye. I sincerely hope people will stay as relaxed and it can stay like that for the rest of the run.
Today we had sun. It was a glorious day and we found ourselves standing in the shades at the Criterion Theatre stage door, which is very conveniently placed in a sort of arcade. We stood there waiting for an hour. We should have enjoyed the precious rays of sunshine, but there you go.
He arrived at about 1pm and looked exquisitely yummy (see pictures). He said hi to everyone and that he had no idea, where he was going and unisono we all replied “there!” and pointed to the stage door. We must have looked like a mini musical number. Also we were a bit concerned like we were sending him away in hindsight. When he went in we went round the building and started the decline towards the stalls of the theatre as it’s underground. The auditorium itself was incredibly beautiful and it is a boutique theatre if ever there was one. Just small and pretty.
The stage was prepared with two chairs, a small table and some water. Quite a number of people had shown. Michael and his host came on stage to great applause, took a seat and it was he himself who poured in the water for both of them.
His interviewer was Mark Lawson from BBC Radio 4. He said how Imelda had been on this stage ten days ago and said how she had been very complimentary about Michael and what he had to say about her. “Of all the leading ladies I worked with, she is definitely one of them!” came the giggled reply. On a more serious note he said how funny she was, how dedicated, hard-working and how she pushed him as an actor. It was evident that there is a great mutual respect between these two and apparently a deep understanding, also the same humour.
They then talked about Sweeney being very much Michael’s project to which he agreed and said that he otherwise would never have been cast. He knows the business and he knows that he had made choices in his career that have not appealed to the high brow ranks in the business. He did things that were too commercial for these people, but he believes in commercial theatre and he just knew that nobody would have thought that he was born to play Sweeney, but he said that he believes he was (and we agreed whole heartedly).
Later on in the Question and Answer section the possible Broadway transfer for Sweeney came up and he confirmed that it was something that is being looked into, but basically depends on whether they can make it work financially and also he would want the entire ensemble to go, which might proof tricky with American Equity, but there is a way around this problem. Getting the amount of money required for this kind of production over there is not easy. He asked whether anyone of us would get out the check book out now. Sadly no secret millionaires in the audience. He said that they just about made the West End production work. So fingers crossed for them to get the necessary funding. He stressed again though that it would be a limited run, if it happened.
He was then asked to describe his average day. Obviously it’s training for the Marathon he joked, but no, he has no opportunity to do much else apart from Sweeney. He gets up, reads three papers, listens to the news, walks the dogs, has a nap at noon, watches some telly, on Thursdays he has massages and his Sundays are off. He said that he needed 24 hours of doing nothing, which is why he is not doing the radio show at the moment, but he loves it and hopes he will return to it in January! Of course this depends on whatever else is happening in his life then. He has said that he wants to record an album, then tour in late spring, early summer and he has a new project, which he is excited about. A show he wants to bring to the West End and is just busy acquiring the rights for the show. Naturally he could not and would not say what it was. Even though Mr. Lawson very cleverly kept asking for clues until Michael desperately begged him at asking questions, because he is so bad at keeping secrets (as we know from previous interviews). So it looks like he will be busy, but he said it might not come to fruition after all. You never know with these things.
It was very interesting to hear that he had had problems with his voice during the rehearsal period in Chichester and that a cold went around in the cast did not help obviously. The rehearsals for Epiphany were quite tough. He had to find the physicality of the piece and shouted a lot, then he had to change the register, but still had the big high notes. So it was very demanding and when the show started he had no time to recover. So this had been a real problem and he was desperate not to miss out on any shows during the Chichester run and we know he did not in the end, but it was a close call. He said that he had feared these problems would return with the West End transfer, but now that it was there everything was in place, he was experiencing no problems and he feels he never sung it better (too true!).
Mr. Lawson asked it Opera singers are too precious about their voice. “Absolutely!” came the instant reply. Michael explained how Opera singers when they faced doing a musical freaked completely at the prospect of doing 8 shows a week, whereas for a musical singer doing opera like he had done with Kismet and Patience is no problem whatsoever, because you keep having three to four days a week off. And he actually said, he thought he would love it, but the downside was, that after all this free time, every performance felt like opening night all over again. He said actually it’s the same for him and Sweeney on Mondays, which we thought was quite amazing, but could relate to.
Naturally Kismet came up and we all had such a laugh, but the audience and interviewer agreed that it was not too bad. The music was beautiful and Michael agreed that some good has come of it. He got really close with Alfie Boe. By god the rehearsal period for Kismet must have been adventurous to say the least.
Talk came from Kismet to Patience to Woman in White and he told us about an accident he had with his co-starring rat Beatrice, which ended in her losing a bit of her tail, which he seems to regret until this very day.
He also discussed the old Sondheim versus Webber debate and naturally praised them both. Actually he said they had both written good and not so good stuff. You could not really compare them. They also have a completely different approach to their work and that they are both perfectionists, which he loves, because it’s important and because they are quick with praise as well as criticism. Also he found that Hal Prince has added to both their greatest works (Sweeny and Phantom). Mr. Lawson was quite impressed with Mr. Sondheim coming to see Sweeney four times already. They quickly talked about Sweeney almost being a flop when it first opened in London. And Michael said, the Drury Lane Theatre would have been too big for the show and the Adelphi was pushing it, but it just about works.
There were some really interesting questions from the audience (not the usual “What is your favourite song / musical / etc. ). First questions was: Why Pirelli was looking like the “Go-Compare” man (that is a TV commercial character in the UK, who really looks remarkably like Pirelli). And he said that the designer simply did not know anything about this TV spot, but when the costume was revealed they all went “Oh, the Go-Compare-Man”, but the looks matches the character.
Someone else wanted to know whether back in Manchester, when he had been Frederick in “Pirates of Pencanze” could he have imagined being a star 25 years later. “Oh Yes!” He did have a laugh. He said he earned 90 pounds a week, “How times have changed”, but on a more serious note, that job had taught him so much about working in a company, about the right work ethic, about the star system and about him wanting to work in Musical Theatre. Mr. Lawson had asked whether he had been offered speech roles and he said, yes he had, but he did not think it would give him the same joy as singing.
Another question was if he wanted to direct at one point. Another big yes. He feels he is at a place now where he can give direction and there are talks about doing something in Chichester at one point.
He was also asked about career longevity. He said it was important that you show professionalism and are able to take direction and work good in a company. Should you happen to lead the company it was important to lead by example and also know, when to have fun and when to be serious. He sees the problem that young actors think, getting the job, is the job and they forget what a massive commitment a musical is and he said there had been occasions, where he had to take youngsters to the side and explain to them that their work ethic (or lack thereof) might eventually lead to them never getting another job, because the industry is so small and if you failed to show up on time or show up at all, people will talk and producers will hear of it. So professionalism was his number one advice, if you want to take on a career in the business.
Talking about the various TV shows casting people he said he does not mind them as an auditioning tool and watches them all, but it is important that the winners are cared for, because there is a lot of pressure in it and that they need to be up for the job and be able to do eight shows a week. Also he then wants to see high quality shows and no cheap touring versions.
Another question was how they kept the tension up, when they were in a long run. He said that it was important to keep it up and that you could do it by always ever so slightly modifying your performance which then leads to the others on stage responding to that and so it keeps it fresh. It was great to hear him say that. He mentioned Imelda’s performance in “Wait” and we found that so intriguing, because this is just what we had witnessed the whole week. Subtle changes. Sometimes only a small movement of the head or holding each others’ gaze a second longer. They do change the entire feel of the scene. Really intriguing.
We should make clear that this is by no means a complete report, these are merely the things we jotted down or remembered at almost 2 o’clock in the morning, but at least we hope it gives you an impression of the event. The whole thing lasted an hour and it was such a joy to hear all the stories. We are positive that you could listen a whole day without being bored. We are so happy to have been part of this. What an absolute joy. We then had time to get back to the hotel and get changed for the night. We met our friends again at the stage door and you will find that there are only three photos online. Well this is due to the fact that when Michael came to the stage door, he said he was bursting for a …… and had to get inside quickly and in he was. (aka: he needed to go to the powder room).
The show itself was well what Sweeney always is: Stunning, fantastic,fabulous…. ‘insert praise here’, but what impressed us most was seeing it evolve from performance to performance. Today there was so much going on between these two that we could hardly wait for the next scene to see whether there’d be a new nuance and there always was. The audience loved it (among them John Barrowman and partner). A full standing ovation and a double curtain call once again. It’s unreal how fast the time flies, when you are in the Adelphi. One moment you are taking your seats and the next you are standing up for the curtain call. WE know for a fact that the wait to see it again on Michael’s birthday will be far too long and we cannot believe our May trip is almost over as we have to leave tomorrow afternoon. So one stage door to say goodbye and a few more hours in glorious London and then 7 weeks of withdraw.Permalink
WE got back to London on Tuesday and saw our first Sweeney after the opening night from the last row oft he Upper Circle (by choice!). since Chitty we have had the habit to see a show from different perspectives as you tend to find new bits and pieces here and there, depending on where you’re sitting. The view was very good actually and the sound up there is immaculate. We were quite impressed. There was a large group of school children, well teenagers, but young teenagers, sitting in front of us and they were incredibly well behaved and really into the show. We do hope however that the teachers will discuss the very challenging scenes at a later date (after all there’s murder, rape and child abuse to cover). We admit to having wondered whether they should have put up a firm age limit, but then again the youngsters today are made from much sterner stuff than we were, when we were as young.
Even up there we noticed slight modifications in the routines. It is all settled nicely now and everyone seems ready to experiment with their character a bit. It’s great to see Mrs Lovett getting more and more tactile with the emotionally remote Mr. Todd and we are just so jealous. This lucky woman, well, not in the end obviously…. The crowd was very enthusiastic and even warranted a second round of bows from everyone.
Today, well yesterday now, well on Wednesday we experienced the polar opposite and were lucky enough to sit in the stalls. Completely different experience of course for the matinee at least, because for the evening show we were back in the Upper Circle (not by choice this time, but we really can recommend the first three rows of the Upper Circle, the view is excellent, you can still see the faces, just the leg room is a bit limited).
The show is still as wonderful as it was back in March. It got even better now and we did not think that possible. Epiphany tonight was out of this world. Terrifying and mesmerizing. How he managed this twice in one day is beyond us. We just felt in complete awe to witness such talent and we know we are very privileged to be able to see the show as often as we do.
What was funny about tonight’s performance, we were up in the goods, as we said, and this time surrounded by a class of much older school children (probably 16 – 17) from Austria. We were quite curious to see how they reacted to the show. And you could tell they were quite unsettled in the Judge’s self-flagellation scene. It’s always intriguing to witness in every audience so far that watching this always gets a more emotional reaction that watching gruesome killings. So the feeling of shame seems to override the shock of murder. Quite intriguing really, but anyways….
During the interval we heard the kids speaking and nearly all of them complained that they could not understand a word of the dialogues and that there was too little blood. So they thought it was boring. We almost wanted to search for the teacher and ask them how they could choose this musical without going through the lyrics and vocabulary first. Such a waste and shame. Sondheim is very wordy and loosing out on these brilliant lyrics is just a tragedy. Luckily they did not fidget and actually did applaud loudly in the end. So we hope the music won them over after a while.
Sorry to bore you with audience observations, but really, what can be said about the show that has not been said before? Imelda and Michael are just outstanding. And everyone else as well. It gets repetitive. No obvious glitches, just the bodies sliding down ever so slowly now and then, but they all vanished eventually.
The arrival stage door today was lovely. A small crowd, no rain, a very handsome Ball (see photos for proof). Between the shows we wandered around Piccadilly and Leicester Square and happened to be at the right spot, because, just when we crossed the street at Leicester Square none other than Mr. Johnny Depp was chauffeured past us and to the Empire Cinema, where he opened his new movie Dark Shadows. We have been around Leicester Square for several opening nights, but we never heard hysteria like that! As we saw him on the big screen outside the cinema we contemplated grabbing him and drag him with us to the Adelphi to have him watch Sweeney Todd done properly (just kidding).
And the celebrity spotting continued at the stage door. When Michael came out after the show he was with Alex Kingston. Quite a glamorous da, for an ordinary Wednesday.Permalink
So that’s it, the last two Sweeney Todd shows in Chichester. Thank heavens, the official announcement about it’s transfer to the West End came a day beforehand. Otherwise we would have been stranded with something we have not experienced for 5 years: Not knowing what he is going to do next. We have realized how spoilt we have been the last couple of years, as there was a time we would receive messages like: Michael is going to do a concert in three weeks time….
We got to the stage door in good time, just to be sure we would not miss him while we were circling to get a parking space, you know the story. This must have been one of the oddest and certainly shortest arrival stage doors for a last show ever!
Michael arrived, there were more than 50 people waiting for him. He parked his car as usual, he got out quickly and moved in front of his car and no one went to him to get a photo, a signature, nothing. We all stood there, around him, forming a huge circle. Helge handed him his and Petra’s present, after all it’s the last time we are going to see him before Christmas. Once Michael moved many of the people standing around moved back to give him space instead of the usual rush to him. He kept repeating, he’d be going in now and that is, what he basically did. Yes, he was finally asked to sign some stuff and pose for photos, but basically he was in very quickly as we all just stood there and stared in awe instead of speaking LOL. Stage doors sometimes are odd experiences.
The matinee performance was fabulous. Of course they have not really changed anything about the performances. Everything seemed to be more intense and the moment Sweeney killed his wife unknowingly was almost as horrible as the first time we had seen it.
The evening performance saw our first technical glitch for a very long time. At the end of the contest Pirelli walks over to Sweeney to hand him the 5 Pounds and he tripped over the trapdoor, that is used very so often during the show to put props and actors on and off stage. It’s centre stage and is usually shut and invisible unless used during scene changes. But this time you could see how one panel of it gave way under Pirelli and was half open afterwards. It refused to shut again. So once the scene finished all the actors left and a technician walked on stage informing us that there will be a short break. 5 people then worked feverishly on the malfuntioning trapdoor. I bet they wished the theatre had a curtain but no such luck. It must be VERY stressful to work with 1200 people watching your every move fretting that they’d have to cancel the final performance! But they did manage to get it to shut properly again and the performance continued as if nothing ever happened - well apart from the actors walking on stage from the sides instead of being lifted on and off and the props being carried by stage hands dressed in black. We wondered about the finale of the first act where Mr T and Mrs L disappear through said trapdoor (usually to tumultous applause). Would they walk off stage? Or disappaer into the back of stage? But just in time for this exit the trapdoor worked perfectly again and they had their usual disappearing act exit (indeed to tumultous applause). Naturally the break was used for some further mending of the faulty equipment and the second half went smoothly. Hats off to the actors who all adapted so well to the spontaneous change in routines. The joys of live theatre…what can you do?
While the audience in the matinee was a bit weird (there was MASSIVE applause when Sweeney finally gets to kill the Judge…Panto feeling) the evening crowd was quiet in the appropriate places and roared with laughter at the right moments, embracing this fabulous cast and Sondheim’s masterpiece just as it should be. in the end we all started the standing ovation for the ensemble (most of the times we have been it began with Michael and Imelda entering the stage again) and stood through the whole “curtain call". We screamed ourselves hoarse it has to be said. and it was so touching to see them all having tears in their eyes and Michael and Imelda in a big hug…a magical moment. And so well deserved.
And now it’s all over and we are back at our cosy bed and breakfast packing. Oh and guess what? We are only four guests here and we met the other two guests at the theatre! They also came to see the final performance! It’s a small world.
Now we will battle with fighting off our post-show blues (focus on March, focus on March!) and had back to Germany to give in to pre-Christmas madness and Sweeney ticket booking frenzy…
After chancing a first glance at the Adelphi on our way back to the airport. Afterall this will be “home” next year. And no doubt we will be back reporting from our London adventures then.Permalink
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