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Ball & Boe Together
29/11/16 @ 04:48:06 am, Categories: Shows, Pre Stage Door, Post Stage Door, General, 1158 words   English (GB)

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!).

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Mack and Mabel Stage Doors (July 2015)
25/07/15 @ 07:29:49 am, Categories: Pre Stage Door, Post Stage Door, 533 words   English (UK)

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.

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Wednesday - 9 May 2012
09/05/12 @ 07:31:59 pm, Categories: Shows, Pre Stage Door, Post Stage Door, General, 804 words   English (UK)

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.

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Chichester - Last Sweeney Todd (here)
06/11/11 @ 02:53:28 am, Categories: Shows, Pre Stage Door, Post Stage Door, General, 878 words   English (GB)

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.

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Sweeney Todd - 13 October 2011
14/10/11 @ 04:11:04 am, Categories: Shows, Pre Stage Door, Post Stage Door, 1212 words   English (GB)

Yesterday’s stage door was a short but sweet affair. We managed to ask him whether he’d be part of the post-performance discussion that was planned for this night. No, he said. Well, shame, as we thought it would have been interesting but you didn’t want to miss out on waving him good night, right? Okay, we are sure this is something only fellow fans will be able to understand. Ah well, we had a lovely post-stage door chat at the theatre bar next door and were soon back with Mr T and Mrs L.

If anything the show gets better with each viewing. There is always something new to discover and words simply cannot describe the sheer brilliance of Michael’s performance. Leaves us breathless and shaken every single time.

A special mention must go to the stunning visuals of the show. The lighting is superb and it really feels like watching an epic movie up for the Oscar for best photography. Some of the pictures they created (him backlit, a towering silhouette above the audience) will stay with us forever. No doubt about that.

Scene applause again for Epiphany. We are torn on that one, as there is really no question as to whether he deserves this (a revelation indeed), but it is interrupting a very tense moment. At least no laughter at Sweeney’s death this time.

So what to do now. Throughout the entire interval there had been loads of discussions whether we would all stay for the post-show talk or leave for the stage door. What if he did appear after all? Why wouldn’t they let us wave him good bye and then back in again? What to do, what to do? Our little group gathered in the auditorium for a quick pow wow after the final bravos of the evening. Word had it that he was doing it after all, so we gladly rushed back to our seats…to find them blocked by people who had moved forward a few rows. We all apologized and said that we had merely been talking to our friends down the aisle and most of the people moved back to their own seats or took one of the other vacant ones but not so much luck for Bunny Kerstin. The lady on her place refused to move. We had left our seats full stop. Heated discussion ensued and even an usher had trouble persuading the lady to take up one of the other seats. Not a lot of love around us after this intermezzo. Her friends were quite put out we fear, but come one, we had merely wanted to sit down again after having been away for 1 minute. And we were also sitting with friends.

Anyways, the cast appeared on stage to big applause (really many of them were so kind to spend a little while longer with us). When Michael came on stage the substantial crowd erupted into massive cheers. He did look rather delicious in purple shirt and jeans (no socks…mmmh). We were allowed to ask questions then. Many good questions from the audience. Imelda had brought her cute little dog (“This is Molly with her carer,” introduced Mr Ball LOL). Were they inspired by the movie, er no, not really did it look like it? The idea to set it in more modern times was to make it more relatable for a modern audience and also to shake off all the ghosts of past productions or indeed the movie. They had an incredibly short rehearsal period of 5 weeks to get to this perfection (Michael and Imelda had rehearsed an extra week together before this). Many young actors in the audience who wanted advise on auditions and getting into character. Really insightful replies by Imelda an all the others. Did they know they had a hit when still in rehearsals. You could tell they all thought yes, they did really, but didn’t want to sound too self-absorbed so went for they knew it when they had the audience in for the first time.

A daring question on the temperamental chute (some victims were rather hesitant to slide down into the bakehouse). They explained how the blood is based on sugar and is a very sticky affair. So at one point, when one poor victim was indeed stuck in the middle (we had seen this show) Michael told us all how eventually a hand came up from below and pulled the actor down and out of sight. And he had to remain singing throughout the entire drama! LOL mind you, as we said, we had been present at the incident and you couldn’t see the tiniest hint of a flicker of irritation on his face or hear it in his voice. That’s a true professional for you.

Another question surrounded the blood flow during the killings. As sometimes you hardly see a drop and at other times it’s splashing around like a broken water pipe. The guy who plays Sweeney’s first nameless victim explained the situation. When they started rehearsing with the blood they all had belts that made them look like suicide bombers, including blood packs and battery packs and so on. They needed to push a button and the blood was supposed squirt. At the beginning it merely trickled and then exploded into Michael’s face. Now they do this mechanically in a way. Actually he did not completely reply to this question.

There was lots of praise on stage and off stage for the actors, the musical direction, the sound design and the set. Michael explained how important the sound design was for the show as they did not use the existing system of the Festival Theatre, but had something individually designed installed. It’s rather complicated but there seem to be many small speakers that are individually controlled.

Then he continued to talk about the emotional impact of the opening scene, when he is still hidden from view and hears the almost operatic intro from the ensemble. He said the soundwaves hit you and what an amazing moment it is, when the entire cast calls out to him (“Sweeney, Sweeney…!”). So, if we ever get the chance…. This earned him a big laugh. As if they’d ever give us the chance to sit on that chair in turn…. We wish!

It was over all too soon, but they had all been very generous with their spare time.

At the stage door afterwards there was this huge crowd of acting school students and we thought he’d never get out of there, but just like in Rugby, where there is a huge huddle of players and the ball sometimes escapes unnoticed, he appeared in front of us after just a few moments and waved good night. How he did it, we will never know! The cast then went into the bar of the opposite Minerva theatre. So this was our clue to go. It’s really not the done thing to wait for him after he said good-bye. Did not stop some though.

The sun is shining in Chichester today and we cannot believe it’s Friday already. We’ll get back to you soon.

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