>>  Bunny Diaries
Missin’ you, kid.
17/09/15 @ 01:52:49 pm, Categories: General, 1891 words   English (UK)

Always when booking multiple dates for a new show there is this utter bewilderment amongst our friends and families: But what if you hate it?? We can shrug this off quite casually. We never hated a single thing we saw of Michael’s. He has exceptionally good taste or just luckily the same as ours. We trust his judgment completely. Now with Mack and Mabel we weren’t so sure as you hear so much about this doomed show. But again we went with our gut feeling and said we’d trust him. How right we were! We actually underestimated how much we would love Mack and Mabel. So at the end of our first trip we began suffering severe withdrawal even before we had seen our last show. In fact, each time we saw it we fell in love with it just little bit more.

To cut a long story short. We ended up adding an extra day (and thus another two performances) to our “end of Chichester run” trip. Only fair as we had to miss the final Saturday. Ages ago Benedict Cumberbatch was announced to perform in Hamlet at the Barbican and we thought: great, Mr. C and the first West End venue of Mr. B. (Les Mis originated there) which we still had not seen - two excellent reasons to try for tickets. Naturally these turnd out to be the hottest tickets in town and were sold out within minutes. Now THAT is a booking experience we don’t want to repeat ever. Think tour ticket booking times ten! Sods law had it that the one day we managed to get tickets for (very last row of the upper circle) later on was announced to be the last day of Mack and Mabel in Chichester. GAH!! But we knew it would be extremely foolish to sell the Hamlet tickets (though we could have made a fortune, of course). But believe us, we did question this decision every time we saw the show and knew we couldn’t be there for the final day.

Why didn’t we write about our trip sooner? We simply did not have the time to do it. We had the lovely Arnoldt family with us in Chichester and met up with other friends, so no chance during (also very patchy wifi situation at the hotel) and after we got home we got straight back to work which was madness these last few days. So now we literally use the first little break to work on it.

Oh how good it was to be back in Chichester! We did not have brilliant seats naturally, as we booked so late, but were extremely lucky to be able to upgrade on the day, as there were some returns. This meant great seats for the matinee, and for the evening performance we were sat on that wonderful aisle Mack walks down at the beginning of the second act. And having him stood next to you mid-performance all focused energy in this beautiful suit and – yes, we know, this next part is sad – to feel the soft vibration of the floor when he is walking down the steps still gives us goosebumps.

Some friends said they were curious to hear how much we liked it now after our “little” gap. We had seen the opening week and now were back for the final week. Gosh, how much we loved it! Even at our first trip everyone was fabulous and we loved it, now though it had evolved so much! Everyone really had settled into their characters. Mostly it was just a slight change in emphasizing certain words, nothing major really, just nuances here and there that did make a big difference though to the feel of the scene. But Rebecca had changed Mabel so much! Mabel now was much more self-assured and sassy. She and Mack were equals now with regards to their determination. He was determined to make people laugh; she was determined to make this difficult man love her as much as she loved him. Mabel is such a great character with this amazing arc from feisty deli-girl to the hugely successful movie star and finally broken actress at the end. Michael and Rebecca made it all feel real for us. What an emotional rollercoaster (that’s us being happy and sad during the show, not an actual rollercoaster throwing a tantrum, just saying in case this lost in translation).

Apart from our leads we have to give a special shout out to Ashley Andrews. For those who have seen the show: he is the dancer that does the bodysurfing over the three huge beach balls during the “Hundreds of Girls” routine (also the writer Mack fires in New York). Such elegance and precision in movement! A true joy to behold. We made it our goal to spot him in every single scene; trickiest is the one with the Keystone Cops. But we managed eventually.

And, it goes without saying – almost, Michael was just brilliant on and off stage and a joy to talk to. Even when he was very poorly one day he took time to chat and have pictures taken. What a star. We hope he made the most of the one week off he had.

Another highlight we have to tell you about though was our backstage tour of the theatre. The Festival Theatre offers these tours regularly and as we love seeing theatres that way we spotted that they offered one on the final Saturday as well. It started at 10:30am and lasted for 1.5 hours in which we were shown the (unglamorous as is the norm) backstage area, the green room which was laid with the original stage flooring from when the theatre opened, the tiny dressing rooms (they don’t have star dressing rooms, all were roughly the same they said, democratic theatre), we saw the wigs, the costumes (they were just working on Michael’s), were told about the history and architecture of the theatre by our fabulous host Harriet. And we got to go behind the stage, see all the sets, which is always incredible. Although we had seen it almost a dozen times on stage there was so much in the sets that never registered. So many little details you never truly see during the show as you tend to be distracted by the storytelling. And the highlight surely was to walk on stage from the wings and getting an idea of what it is like for the cast. Now that is a unique and thrilling experience. Theatres are magical places filled with creative energy even when no performance is on. It was most fantastic (and humbling) feeling to be able to switch perspectives for a change. Little note to everyone who has seen the show there: The top step, when you get down from the stage into the auditorium is really incredibly high! How they ran down into the aisles from up there in the dark without breaking their necks is a minor miracle. We were so sad we couldn’t see the show again after this experience and it gave you a whole new feel for the place. Alas, it was not to be. Surely there will be a next time someday.

However, our time in Hollywoodland was up. We just had time to wave good-bye to Mr. Ball from way back at the stage gate, as we already said good-bye the night before and didn’t want to rob others of the chance and then we were off to London for Hamlet and to meet up with the Arnoldts for dinner.

And that day won’t be forgotten too quickly. It was crazy. We got to the Barbican in good time and decided to collect our evening show tickets early so we’d have time for a relaxed dinner. Thank heavens we did! When they looked up our booking they told us that in all the booking frenzy and amidst system crashes etc. we had had booked tickets for the matinee – which was just having it’s interval as we stood there. We were utterly stunned. Definitely a first for us and no repeat performance planned, thank you very much. Now, while going in we had spotted loads and loads of SOLD OUT signs posted through the vast foyer area. Our hearts sunk. No Mack and Mabel AND no Hamlet?? Resigned we asked the kind lady at the box office for returns on the off chance. She immediately phoned someone more senior then. We were confused. This conversation ended after a few minutes (us calculating whether we could make it back down to Chichester in time) and – miracle of miracles – told us that yes, she actually had a return of two seats next to each other and just had to make sure she was allowed to sell them already. Okay, so we ended up paying the price twice BUT had most amazing seats now in the circle right next to the stage. PHEW! That could have been a disastrous end of our trip otherwise. Hamlet was wonderful, dark, creepy, and intense. Everything we hoped it to be. Mr. Cumberbatch was quite a force of nature. Such presence!

After the show we went to the stage door and even got in second row. We waited almost until 11 and then there he was, signing away and posing for a handful of photos. He must have been exhausted after two three-hour shows but was happy to sign and pose for the waiting crowd.

But our evening was not yet over – oh no: it had only just begun! We got our car out of the car park and we kid you not. The way to our hotel should have taken 15 minutes by foot. At first getting there took well over an hour as the city was crazy mad with traffic AND our sat nav is 10 years old, hence was not QUITE up to speed with the one way streets etc. When we finally got there we were circling our hotel trying to find a car park, but could find nothing (and this was Liverpool Street Station so not out in the woods). Loads of spaces on the streets, but only for permit holders. The only car park we found we could not get to due to millions of building sites and when we finally just took the first one we found we were utterly and truly lost, had no idea where our hotel was and were bone tired. The navigation app of our phone said the hotel was 13 minutes walk away. That was good then. We did so much circling and backtracking that we could have been in Oxford by no, so that was seriously good news. The bad news was that we couldn’t use our car sat nav and the batteries of our mobile phones were down to 8%. We made it to reception with 1% power left and a mere THREE hours after getting into our car. And we are NOT joking. Never been this tired on our lives.

Luckily no more travel nightmares after that. And a tiny hitch like this won’t keep us from going again, of course, so here’s to the next adventure in November when Mack and Mabel are touring Edinburgh. 

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Mack and Mabel Press Night Week
26/07/15 @ 09:03:44 am, Categories: General, 1500 words   English (UK)

It’s always exciting to see Michael in a new show. We usually try not to read too much about the show beforehand as we want to be surprised and open-minded. Basically it might always be a risk to buy tickets for a show before you know what to expect, but then again, we trust Michael in his judgement and he has not disappointed us yet…. Therefore we were not too fazed to keep reading the musical has never been a success before.

The main character and narrator is Mack Sennett. He’s been one of the most successful silent movie directors and discovered Mabel Normand. She swiftly became the star of all his movies and they developed an intimate relationship that rather lacks the classic romantic elements of your average relationship. This is probably best described with the ultimate anti-love song “I won’t send roses". Also you will find that there is no duet between the two leads. In the end the sound film revolutionises the movie industry and makes the big names of the silent movie era obsolete. It is probably appropriate to warn you that there will not be a happy ending.

Once the overture finishes, an old Mack Sennett enters his studios for one last time, wearing a Persian Lamb fur coat and a hat. The days of his biggest successes long gone, he reminisces a different time, when “Movies were Movies”. Mack starts the projector, watching clips of “my Mabel”. When he goes centre stage lighting rigs are pulled up around him, revealing fabric sheets that function as screens. Silent movie scenes are projected with Mack shimmering through the sheets. The effect is as mesmerizing as is Mack’s booming voice. He becomes more and more agitated, as the sheets fall, the coat is gone and suddenly Mack is young again and we are in 1911.

The whole story is told by the old Mack Sennett in flashbacks. Sometimes it’s done with a break between scenes, sometimes Mack would hold up his hand and stop the scenes mid–action, to tell what happened, like a freeze frame in movies. And sometimes he would just switch mid-sentence and even mid-quarrel to the old Mack, telling himself off for behaving so stupidly. Michael shines in these scenes. He makes the transitions believable. His whole stance changes and it is always clear which Mack is standing before us.

The set is simple but very clever. When we drive to California by train, the whole train is there, including smoking chimneys, movement and all is projected on screens at the back of the stage. The same goes for another scene, when Mabel is about to set sail and we are standing in front of a tall transatlantic ship. The mix of theatre and movie magic is, of course, most appropriate.

Other highlights of the shows include the silent movie scenes shot especially for the show. Rebecca LaChance has the perfect face for this era and we would have gladly watched the entire films to the snippets they show us.

And then there is the slaptick element. Most noticably in the Keystone Kops routine but there are many numbers dedicated to this form of comedy - and believe us, they still work! Just as they did then. The audience never failed to respond with Mack’s favourite sound: laughter. Especially the scene of the “Keystone Kops” was breathtakingly choreographed and all those sitting in seats A13/A14 will be in for a little shock, when they become suspects at one point.

The choreography is simply amazing. We were delighted to see that Michael has more dancing to do than we ever expected and with very nimble feet, too. But we knew is is a great dancer, of course.

When it comes to the cast Michael was absolutely right. They are all fantastic and just perfect for their respective roles. There is no weak link. The young ensemble is outstanding, dancing their talented feet off to make sure we all are thoroughly entertained.

You’d expect us to say Michael was fabulous, and yes he was and still is. Just like Sweeney he is able to show off his unique voice, but not only his voice, his acting as well. It breaks your heart, when he says “I cannot lose my Mabel”. You have to be completely cold hearted, when she is all broken in midst of scandals and deep into her drug addiction and he tries to get her back on screen and orders her to “One – turn – two – wipe your eyes – three – smile – four – smile”. The final song (I promise you a happy ending) reminded us very much of the Alone Together (How could I lose you). Equally heartbreaking and sung with exquisit precision.

Michael is funny, cruel, loud, playful and basically becomes Mack Sennett, a difficult and very driven director and producer, who cannot be bothered to fall in love, as romance would slow him down and only detract from his focus: making the world laugh.

Rebecca LaChance is a revelation. Just seeing her makes you believe she has just stepped out of a silent movie. She has the look. She holds the stage on her own. Her voice is so effortless throughout the whole show, eventhough this slender person has to belt out some serious money notes. Also she manages to make us look at her even when Michael is on stage and those who know us will realise what an achievement this is! LOL

As a side remark to her casting: We were at a pre-show talk with Jonathan Church (the director) on our second day and he told the audience about the casting of Mabel, which has to be one of the key factors of the show. There has to be chemistry between the actors playing Mack and Mabel, otherwise it will be difficult to convince the audience. So they searched in the UK, but did not find a suitable young actress. They went to the US and several castings later found Rebecca. She had a great rapport with Michael from the beginning and was not shy or scared in his presence. Essential for the part, of course. A lot of respect, yes, but not so much awe that it gets in the way.

Anna Jane Casey is amazing as Lottie. We’ve read of one critic that she got it all wrong as the role was meant to be mellow and should ground Mack. Casey’s Lottie certainly is different. She gives him as good as she gets and that fits her part and the show just fine, in our humble opinion. She is cynical but not cold. Just a strong woman. And she is an incredible dancer. Her big solo number is “Tap your troubles away” and god did she do that.

As you might remember, we have been lucky enough attend the press night. The second one we have ever been to. We were so eager for everything to go right for this fantastic show and its hard-working cast. But sadly technology let them down badly. The good thing is: None of the reviewers seems to have noticed it! Or at least they didn’t mention it.

We described the opening scene with the projections. It’s a truly impressive opening to the show, fusing musicals and movies. Michael was standing at the side, looking up at the screen and usually a short film sequence of the young Mabel comes up. But nothing happened. He waited for a beat but then did the only thing he could: go on with the show. Once the lighting rigs were pulled up the projection started, but then stuck and instead of a movie, we only got some scattered stills, which were better than nothing. The projections later in the show worked (thank heavens!) but it was such a shame as this opening scene really is impressive and sets the tone so beautifully. Naturally it has worked at all previous shows and all of the following. Just not at press night. Sod’s law.

There were several sightings of famous people we have seen over the days. Of course Cathy and Callum were there for Press Night. We also spotted Lenny Henry in the audience the day after Press Night. On Monday we saw Jason Carr and Jonathan Kent (pianist and director of “Alone Together”).

Our verdict:

Mack and Mabel is a fabulous show. It has everything anyone could possibly want: sweeping ensemble numbers, touching solos, AMAZING dancing, outstanding singing, a fantastic band and score plus a few film scenes thrown in on top. The music and the cast are outstanding. Everyone really should go and see it. Actually we really recommend to see the show at least twice. No, we are not paid by the producers, but the one thing we learned was that everyone enjoyed the second time even more than the first. So go online or get to the theatre and get your tickets. Now!

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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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Final Days of Tour 2015
05/04/15 @ 10:33:36 am, Categories: General, 1999 words   English (US)

Cardiff (29 April) Portsmouth (2 May) – Southampton (3 May)

First of all sorry for the delay in writing the blogs for the last three concerts, but somehow we did not have the time to sit down apart from doing the photos.

So, let us transport you back to Cardiff last Wednesday. We arrived early checked in and decided to look for some coffee place to have late breakfast and write the blog. The first place was too busy for us, so we walked on and found a lovely Costa. Julia secured a fab table at the corner with views all over the pedestrian zone, while Kerstin got everything else. Just back at the table some lovely Costa Barrista came over to tell us they accidentally dropped one of the rolls, but will do it again and asked if we’d like to have something in the meantime. That was nice, but I declined. Four minutes later he arrived back with the freshly heated all new roll and a little note telling me I had a free drink on them for their mishap. Great customer service.

Little did we know our day would soon take a turn for the even better. Those who follow us on Facebook will already know, for those who don’t…. We were sitting there, setting the laptop up, when Julia suddenly spotted a certain person walking down the street towards us. Yup, Mr. Michael Ball was strolling through Cardiff. We sat there, stared and could not believe it. Somehow these things never happened to us. Due to our prime seat, we could watch him for quite some time and no, we did not run after him. Although we later on entertained the thought of either dashing out and leaving all our valuables at the table or grabbing everything like mad, dashing out, two bags, laptops and ideally heated bread rolls in head to greet him, wheezing (us not him). No, we looked and enjoyed our lovely view as long as we could. We would never dare to follow him, approach him just like that or even take a photo from inside. Especially the last one is so not on!

When the stage door time came, we walked over to the stage ramp as we call it. Usually Michael drives just past in his bus and waves and that’s it. This time however, we knew through seeing him that he was already in town and would there be any point in him being driven to the venue by bus? Maybe not. Long discussions among us and finally it was decided to walk to the front door and hope for the best.

Our large group was miraculously rewarded. Just five minutes after arriving there, we saw Mr. Ball once again walking down the street, see photos on our website. We were a bit shocked and amazed to hear that at Bristol some lady flashed him during party time and we are not talking about photos here. We can safely say it was none of us. LOL

The Show

The audience was great. Uncle Tom was in the audience as well. Michael mentioned that he had very fond memories of the St. Davids Hall as he performed two of his first four concerts there. He started with Swansea, then two in Cardiff and another one in a place we did not understand.

We are not sure, if we mentioned in the past blogs that Michael registered under the name of Frances Spencer, when he applied for the open audition of Phantom of the Opera during his Michael Crawford story.

The audience was great, but at least where we were sitting not as lively as we would have hoped for Cardiff.

Two Days without Michael
Instead of driving on to Plymouth the next day, we decided early on to leave this show and drive to London instead for two days. We always wanted to see Imelda in Gypsy, since we first heard she was doing it in Chichester. It was tough, when we checked the available seats for Michael’s concert and then we saw fourth row, dead centre in the stalls on the aisle was available. We proudly announce that our conviction wavered, but we remained strong.

Before that we planned to see Miss Saigon in the afternoon. Due to several traffic jams on the M4 and of course slow going traffic in London we arrived closer to performance time than hoped, but we made it. We were quite saddened by the whole story, which was really tough and just so glad we had Gypsy in the evening to look out for. Honestly, this poor woman and all these horrid men. Amazing talent on stage though! But the poor chap who was the romantic lead….well, he didn’t know it, of course, but for us he was singing a duet with Mr Michael Ball as we had only the night before heard himself sing “Last Night of the World” in perfection and let’s put it this way: BOY did we look forward to hearing Michael sing it again!

That show was amazing and we have to admit we were quite surprised to know most of the tunes, although we had never seen the show or heard a cast recording. Needless to say, we were equally surprised to hear “I’m a pretty girl Mama”. A phrase that was also used in the finale of Hairspray. So we finally understood the nod to Gypsy. To do some celebrity spotting, we shared the audience with Jimmy Carr (British comedian and TV presenter), who was seated in the box. Imelda was breathtakingly fabulous.

Our London trip ended with Ruthie Henshall in Billy Elliott. Another fabulous show we certainly have not seen for the last time. When we went there early to collect our tickets we received a paper explaining that all theatres had to do an emergency evacuation exercise. This meant, we were asked to remain on our seats after the show. The cloakroom would be closed and the toilets would be closed afterwards. So, just when the curtain call finished, the manager entered the stage, mentioned that piece of paper and then said they had to terminate the performance and we should quietly, but quickly move out of the building and follow the instructions of the staff.

Saturday – Portsmouth

After we got up, we heard the news, that the Duchess of Cambridge was in labour. When we were on the road to Portsmouth we finally had the news, that there was a new little, still unnamed princess. Awwww.

Once more we were rather early and as our hotel room was not really THAT inviting (aka rather small going on tiny) we decided, we might as well do the stupid thing and walk to the Guildhall. The security guard told us they would not expect Michael before 4pm. As you can imagine we stayed and only half an hour later the tour bus drove around the corner and reversed though gates, which are merely wide enough to let the bus pass without damage. Luckily we don’t have to get that huge vehicle through that gap.

One side of the gate closed again, but Michael was nice enough – as always – to walk back to us. What followed then was the conveyor belt of photo opportunities. Michael stood at the open gate and fans asked for photos. When they had theirs taken they gave space for the next eager person. This went on for some time. There was no pushing, no shoving and the atmosphere was so lovely. Michael really took his time and everyone who wanted got their photo.

We should add, that it was not raining. It usually does, when we stand at the stage door in Portsmouth. At least it’s one of two places which are strongly connected to the wettest stage door experience in our history.

For the show we had fabulous seats. Third row, dead center, what more can a girl wish for. The reception was amazing, certainly one of the best concerts we had seen on the tour. We were just so sad that after this only one was left. Michael mentioned at the end that his mum was in and we are sure she must have been so proud of him.

When we left the building to wait at the stage door once more it was raining, of course it was. It would not have been Portsmouth without any rain.

Southampton

For the last concert we did not really feel as if we had to change cities as the drive was so short. This meant we were early in our hotel and could not check in. WE will not go into the whole saga of getting a room, just to let you know we managed to get to the stage door in time.

As it was a bank holiday weekend Sunday and the last night of the tour, we’d expected it to be crowded and it was. Michael arrived early , got out of the coach and made a dash from us all to escape. Hearing the gasps he stopped, laughed and walked over to the waiting fans. Once more he obliged all photograph requests.

When he got closer to us he said “See you all in Sweeney!”. Stunned silence until people tentatively said “Mack and Mabel?”. He gasped, looked horrified and said “Oh God and that’s how tired I am. Didn’t you know I’d do Sweeney again!” We would not mind, but we all bought tickets for something else . This coined a new phrase for us “I’m Sweeney-tired!”

The whole day was tinged with End of tour melancholy as you might imagine. You felt excited for the concert, but sad as everything would be done for one last time. WE will never get used to it, although we know of course, that this is the way things go.

The stage was huge , much bigger, than we remembered. In Bristol for example he hardly had room to move just one foot and here he could move and dance just like he wanted as he had a huge gap between the edge of the stage and the musicians.

Once more Empty Chairs was a show stopper and the applause hardly ceased. He looked a bit teary eyed at this.

The audience was great. Everyone dashed a bit early at the beginning of Roar instead of the middle of the song. We had a great time, partying close to the stage. Imagine our surprise, when all we expected to be left was Love changes everything and suddenly some other sounds started. They did another encore song, in fact he did one of our most favourite songs with “Bad Things”. Adrian later on told us, that this was a very VERY last minute decision, but you really could not tell they hardly had time to rehearse and they even managed to put up an individual video for the back curtain. Quite impressive.

Needless to say, the audience was amazing. More than one person - on and off stage - was in tears by the end of it.

What can we say. Another tour gone. Another day of post-tour blues. Another two-year wait until it all starts again. Yes, we have Mack and Mabel to look forward to (and thank god for that! Otherwise leaving the UK would be unbearable) but a tour is always different. It’s not only the concerts but the travelling, the meeting with friends all over the country, the different venues, the post-concert meet ups. We know he worked incredibly hard to ensure we have an unforgettable time and REALLY earned his rest – but in a very small selfish part of our hearts we wish it could go on forever. Have to win the lottery first though….

Thank you to everyone who made this extra special – you know who you are. See you soon at some windy stage door.

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Bristol - 29 April 2015
29/04/15 @ 08:11:02 am, Categories: General, 603 words   English (UK)

Bristol meant two things. Our second and unfortunately last front row of the tour and no photos. Over recent years the venue was quite strict on photo taking. We managed some on our first concert there, but were then stopped. Not much hope there.

You can imagine we were less than thrilled, when we stood in the shadow of the Colston Hall, in the wind channel of wind channels….. for more than an hour. Half frozen to death Mr. Ball walked up the street, stopped at the corner, talking to a group of fans, having photos and all, while we waited just being warmed by seeing him from the distance. Unfortunately, when he walked up, there was no one really wanting anything from him as we all had our fair share and so he greeted us all, asked if we were alright, gave us a smile and was in so quickly that we did not manage to hand him our presents.

We were joined by lovely Angela just a minute after Mr. Ball entered the building. After that the main highlight of the day followed. We met Adrian and had among us six big big hugs and a lovely chat. Gorgeous and so talented man and we hope he will be continue touring with Michael for a long time.

The Show

We took our seats in the front row, just next to Callum. So close and so nice and we had some hope when the ushers said “No Flash photography” when we entered. Usually that means photography without flash is alright and this time (as you can tell, if you saw the website) they knew that our camera is far from professional.

Unfortunately the backing singers, musicians and of course Michael entered the stage from the left hand side and not from ours as the stage is so small. In fact there is hardly any space for him to move around.

For “Wake me up” hardly any one got up. There were again just patches of people getting up and some of them were told off by people behind them .We’d really hope that Live Nation would make the effort to give at least a block allocation to the fan club. This is so annoying for the fans, who’ve always been standing for the first half and annoying for those people who don’t know and fear maybe that we will be standing for the rest of the night, spoiling the evening.

During his punk time talk he mentioned again his bondage trousers, which he still has, but they would not fit, not even with larger safety pins.

We told you about that bit about the open auditions for Phantom of the Opera. We said, he got laughs for it and that will mean he will repeat it and rest assured he did and it was even more hilarious.

When we were commenting on the audience at the beginning, we have to say, that our impression during that first song was so wrong. The audience was fabulous and once we reached party time and “The Wonder of you” we turned around and saw that almost the complete audience were on their feet , waving their arms. Seeing that was breathtaking. Now, if you wonder, why Michael strives so much, when the audience is appreciative, you’d only have to see that view yesterday and compare it to a quiet audience with most people sitting. It gave us an enormous buzz and they were not even cheering for us!

An amazing day made extra special by spending it with Angela. Thank you love.

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Sheffield – 27 April 2015
28/04/15 @ 08:29:33 am, Categories: General, 853 words   English (UK)

It wouldn’t be a tour without typing a blog entry whilst driving to the next venue. Well, Kerstin is driving and Julia typing, just in case you were worried there for a moment.

Now, Sheffield. Finding the venue proved to be a little bit tricky to put it mildly. Our sat nav has been on tour with us for a very long time which means it is ten years old. And traffic layouts do change. And never did we get to experience this phenomenon more than in Sheffield. We have never been tp the city (yay! A new tour venue for us!) and spent an awful lot of time panicking because of the many bus lanes and non-existent roundabouts. We had given up all hopes of finding either venue or hotel when all of a sudden there it was: the City Hall. And parked in front of it was one of the two tour busses. HEUREKA! AND there was a small car park right next to the stage door. Another first: our car could experience the joy of stage door-ing with us! We got out and it was glorious sunshine. A good sign surely. The very helpful local fans even pointed us into the direction of our hotel (thank you again!) but once you are at a stage door you don’t leave. It’s a olden rule. So we waited. And waited. And then waited some more. The weather changed from sunshine to small clouds to bigger clouds and then grey skies and cold wind. We got both our jackets out of the car and waited a little more. He arrived at 4:30. There were quite a few fans by that time and a gentleman had a huge stash of newspaper cuttings he asked Michael to sign. So there he stood and signed away. And one point he looked up and said: You can talk among yourselves now, Ladies.
It all was a bit rushed as he still needed to do the sound check obviously and then there are the meet and greets at around 5pm. But everyone got their photos and autographs, of course.

The Show

We sat in row five and had a great view. The stage is not too high and the crowd was very keen on Mr Ball. From the first notes you could hear that the day’s rest did his voice a lot of good. Sheffield loved him from the word go and it promised to be a very happy evening.
The “Michael in his teens as a punk” story is evolving. He let us know that his dad was livid when he (Michael) had his ear pierced with 15 (his dad was in the audience, too). We love the look on people’s faces when Michael says he hated punk music but would still do three Sex Pistols songs next! Just kidding, of course (we are sure it would be fun though!). When he did his Michael-Crawford-sings-Sex-Pistols impersonation he remembered an incident back in the early Phantom days. He said Callum will remember it, too, as he was working there at the time (it’s where they met). The held open auditions for the cast change and Michael sneaked in as last singer, in disguise and then sang a few Phantom songs in Michael Crawford’s voice, which he then did for us, well, a few lines. It was hysterical. The woman behind us was crying with laughter.

The whole evening was wonderful. At last a truly appreciative audience again. We would say second best we have seen after legendary York.

We couldn’t take many photos as one of the ushers thought we used a professional camera (we wish!!) which he very kindly explained in the interval. We should feel flattered, we suppose. Professional photographers are only allowed to take pictures during the first three songs (we know that, now we only need to find someone who is paying us for our efforts LOL). He said the artist especially requested for no flash photography (we wouldn’t dream of it), no mobile phones or tablet PCs and no filming. Just for your interest. Sadly the artist had not specified the permitted lense length ;-). But that was fine as we already had a few nice shots to share with you all.

A second innovation came in form of a selfie stick. “I have a very long one..” getting it all to work proved a little difficult though and resulted in the mobile phone taking a first and not so tentative step onto the stage, well, okay, it fell on the stage. But only once and it survived. We even had a countdown to the actual photo to get ready for it. It turned out nicely as you can see on his twitter account.

Sheffield was rounded off by a chat with the ever charming Tony Ball after the concert. And yes, everyone who met Michael’s dad knows where he got it all from. He looked fabulous (two words: Slimming World).

A great evening had by all and we are curious what Bristol will bring.

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Glasgow - 25 April 2015
04/26/15 @ 03:59:50 am, Categories: General, 820 words   English (US)

Glasgow – 25 April 2015

We are back in Scotland. During our Highland holiday last year we fell completely in love with this wonderful country, so really looking forward to spend some days here (we will spend the day off in Edinburgh). Beautiful weather at the stage door, just very very cold wind. We passed the waiting time with chatting to friends and thanks to a group effort of almost everyone at the stage door we hope we managed to get a lovely reminder of or first proper tour with little Malia and her fabulous parents Helge and Petra.

The Show

For this concert we had what probably will be the best seats on the tour. Front row, centre block, stage not too high, fan heaven. “Boarding” for the Clyde Auditorium was …. Let’s say a new experience. WE had to queue to get into the stalls and when we finally reached the doors a rather bossy usher barked at us whether we three were together and to turn left and go to the front row. We felt like saluting. Also the musicians and guest singers walked on stage long before the circle was completely seated. This resulted in a very meager applause for them.

Because of the acoustics of the venue it is hard to say anything of the audience reception as we hardly heard a peep from behind us. Again not everyone on their feet. We actually hesitated for a moment, because you are always torn between showing your appreciation and blocking everyone’s view. But then thought: What the heck.

We can’t begin to describe how much we love those seats. Even though there is a bit of a gap between the seat and the stage. The stage itself is not very high and it feels like having your own personal private concert. You also do feel a bit on display. We found ourselves sitting more upright, smiling like loons and only getting or bottle out to drink when it was completely necessary, as you never want to show any signs as if you are not appreciating the show in front of you.

We think that having three concerts in a row is quite a grueling schedule and you could make out that the voice might need a rest. That said the other concert goers would have noticed a thing, because he sounded beautiful. Just here and there was a bit of huskiness, which we quite selfishly enjoy. WE think while it is wonderful for us, who travel along with the tour, for the performers two nights one day off schedule would maybe be a bit more the considerate schedule.

Party-time meant we had to run to the stage because otherwise our view would have been blocked (see afore mentioned gap). We usually don’t like that too much because of all the pushing and shoving involved. Mind you seeing him up close does compensate you for it. Still this occasion it was a very wide stage, huge gap between the monitors, one of them we had reached with some ease, plenty of room for the others and yet we experienced the nastier sides of “fan behavior”. Kerstin found herself to be constantly shoved aside by a very eager young woman, who had reached the stage just a second after us and could have stood there peaceful just next to us, but seemed so freaked out that she could not get her preferred spot for what we assume would be the kiss in “Wonder of You” (which fyi happens at different places on the stage each night), that at one point, when Kerstin refused to be pushed into Julia and Petra, this woman turns and shouts “You f***ing B***h!”. Well that was a first… definitely. Being insulted while what certainly should be the most fun part of the concert, was bizarre. After “the kiss”, when a lucky lady right on the other side of the stage was kissed, the pushing and shoving ceased miraculously. The only cause of action in such a course is of course to turn away and completely ignore this behavior, just was a bit of a shock to see what a bit of alcohol and hormonal frenzy can do to people.

Apart from this incident though it was a great evening – still not York though. We might have a winner for this tour. But we will give Sheffield a chance to convince us otherwise.
Now off to Edinburgh. We already suffer from severe weekday and city disorientation, a typical tour occurrence. After a few cities and venues you lose all sense of what day it is and where the last concert was (we always feel it at its most acute when stamping the photos with the place name and find ourselves at an utter loss). We cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for himself!

Talk to you again after Sheffield! 

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York (23 April 2015) & Newcastle (24 April 2015)
24/04/15 @ 07:22:15 pm, Categories: General, 1047 words   English (UK)

We are back in the UK at last and joined the tour in York. It has been a while since we have last seen this beautiful little town in the north of England (some 15 years probably) and so we were really looking forward to be back. We spend our first evening to walk down memory lane (do you remember, Pat?) and locate the venue and stage door (it has been renovated) and took what must have been the hugest detour ever. But it was a mild night and the excitement for things to come let us almost forget our aching feet…almost.

Stage Door

The next day began with fog and cold weather but was brightened considerably by the arrival of Petra, Helge and baby Malia who would join us for the first three shows. Before we knew it the sun was out and it was hot, hot, hot at the stage door. Summer feeling! We truly were on holiday. It was a sizable crowd but when he arrived he very graciously took a lot of tie so everyone could have a quick chat and a photo/signature etc. Malia met Michael (again after almost a year) and we made the photos to mark this special occasion so were very happy indeed.

The Show

We were reminded again why we love going to concerts up north: the crowd was just amazing. On their feet the second he stepped onto the stage and so very enthusiastic that for once we could not complain (we usually feel there should be LOADS more admiration taking place). Do you know the feeling when a whole room full of strangers reacts as one? It’s dreamy. So much love and whoohoo-ing…not a concert but a love in. Truly. It was great! And he seemed so much more relaxed compared to when we last saw it in London and Birmingham. It almost felt like a different show. And how many Michael Ball concerts have you been to where you hear him singing Sex Pistols songs in the voice of Michael Crawford? Exactly. He really did…but don’t fret, only a few lines and he was talking about not having liked punk music while still rocking the look as a teenager. But he had the entire look: razor blade around the neck (not a very sharp one, mind), ear pierced, bondage trousers complete with safety pins (they chafed), only the curls refused any attempts to be made spiky.

The opening number of the second act is Something Inside So Strong (which we loved and were so happy that he had included it again) and he mentioned that they decided to use this song because it was actually an answer on Pointless (that’s a quiz show in the UK): name one of Michael Ball’s top 40 hits. So Mr Ball is trivia now!

When he walked back on for the encore in the end he said he would do something new: he’d take a selfie whilst on stage with all of us in it as a revenge for these things drive him mad during the concerts (hear, hear!! Mobile phone screens during shows are a pet hate of ours, so inconsiderate). Afterwards he handed the phone to the guest singers and while he was talking to the audience they did a quick selfie, too. It was hilarious.

Something he has always done in the encore but which we like is that after You Can’t Stop the Beat, when the audience goes all crazy he says thank you, smiles and then just gives us a quick Good night, turns on his heel and makes to leave. Outraged cries from the audience will stop him in his tracks and he walks back to the microphone. “Have I forgotten something?” YES! (as everyone is waiting for Love Changes Everything)and then he looks down and checks whether his flies are done up (they always are…), then laughs and says no, of course he has not forgotten it and proceeds to sing the most impressive money note after a mere two hours of simply astounding singing.

Another random observation: there was so much applause after Empty Chairs that they had to stop the show for a moment for people to quiet down again (well deserved, of course). We rarely experienced anything like it.

For us this was the perfect concert. He sounded amazing and was in high spirits, egged on by the waves of admiration and love form the audience. Such joyous two hours. We were floating out afterwards, no other word for it. We love you York. Next tour we will definitely be back!

Newcastle

Compared to the superlative that was York, the Newcastle audience felt a bit…less ecstatic. While he got a good reception during the first song only isolated groups of fans stood. The rest was eagerly clapping along but it is just not the same. Also no reaction whatsoever to the opening notes of Empty Chairs while All I ask of You was greeted with great enthusiasm. We actually never heard an audience not clapping when they recognized Les Miserables. Mind you, afterwards they were as enthusiastic as York. It was a breathtaking rendition, it has to be said.

What was very irritating – apart from the fact that an usher asked us to stop taking photos with our non flash camera, whilst everyone around us happily took photos with their mobile phones and flash and no one bothered to stop them (not even those who were openly filming the show!) – was that a few people around us evidently thought they had come to the “Michael Ball song-a-long”. We really, REALLY only want to hear him sing, thank you very much. It might have helped if they were any good but they were not. And the warbling came from in front AND from behind us. Also during really quite songs. Rude and inconsiderate. This is not your living-room!

He won them in the end though. He always does. For the encore the whole audience was on their feet. It would probably have been a great night had we not experience the utter perfection of York. It will be interesting to see whether Glasgow can beat them…or at least draw level.

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If everyone was listening
17/04/15 @ 04:35:23 am, Categories: General, 1997 words   English (UK)

Concert Pic

London – 11 April 2015
The day was finally here: We were in London to see our first tour concert. There had been plenty of talk about the lack of a DVD (most upsetting, especially for those who cannot go), the song list (everyone seemed really pleased with it) and setting (smaller band, but great sound) and we were very curious to see the show for ourselves.

We did the stage door which in that case is a stage drive – he drives past in his car and says hello. It was sunny but very windy in beautiful London and there were road works, and very dusty road works at that, going on right next to the venue so we were very happy when he arrived some 15 minutes after we did. We had gone all cultural tourists and been to the Victoria & Albert museum which is only a sort tube ride away and most impressive. Do you if you have the chance. The things we saw….You don’t care one bit for this, do you? Sorry, just teasing. Back to the Ball:

It wasn’t too crowded (a first for Hammersmith) and we did manage some pictures albeit the sun was behind him which always makes it hard to get decent results. We hope you enjoy them.

It was great to see the Apollo in its refurbished state. Last tour it almost fell apart (or some seats did), so now it was all nice and new – very green though. Our seats were okay, not fantastic, but okay. The view was good and this is what counts most.

There is no photography announcement, meaning, no announcement that photography is forbidden. Maybe a nod to the fans to compensate us for the DVD that never was. This makes our life so much easier as we try to capture the concerts for those who cannot at-tend as best as possible. Mind you, we wouldn’t mind a “no flash photography”.

WARNING: What follows is our usual “annoying flashes and mobile phones” paragraph. Skip if you have read this blog before. ;-)

We do not and will never use flash in a concert: too distracting for both performer and au-dience, downright dangerous and also completely pointless. But even this announcement would make life a little harder as people don’t distinguish between the two and then you get evil looks when you take photos. What they SHOULD do is ban mobile phones. The screens are most distracting, the cameras are mostly not at all equipped to cope with the already difficult lighting situation and you can see people filming the entire show. While it is of course understandable that you want a recording when there is no DVD this is just not on; especially when people then share it with the world via social media. These recordings will always be of low sound and image quality and thus do the artist a disservice and let’s not go into licensing rights.

*Rant over*

If you have been to previous tour concerts you cannot help but notice the smaller band. But this does indeed wonders for the sound. In previous years you were sometimes bowled over by a wall of sound, especially if you sat close to the speakers. It was so loud sometimes that you could not hear Michael sing properly. This, of course, is a problem for those sitting in the first few rows, especially when he was at smaller venues. We guess it was not as bad further down the aisle or in the circles. But now, with fewer musicians, you really do hear every word he sings, every note, every nuance. The sound is still amazing so no worries there.

The Concert
The first half was mostly dedicated to the new album which we loved, so we were two very happy bunnies. What we always do at the beginning of the first song is look around and see where people are on their feet to welcome Mr Ball on stage. It’s a good indicator how the tickets were allocated in the pre-sale. Yes, we know not everyone wants to or is physi-cally able to stand through the first song, but it still does give you an idea. For London, the fans were scattered a bit, more solid patches in the side blocks than in the centre block.

The opening number “Wake me Up” worked fine. We had more up-tempo ones before but it does get people going nicely.
This was followed by what we feel is a best of from the album. Especially happy about Need You Now, Jessie, Stuck Like Glue (we were not sure whether he would sing it live seeing that it was Reggae rap…but oh no, no such qualms: “I can Reggae rap with the best of them!”) and I Won’t Give Up. He followed the album tracks by several musical numbers, probably to please those who only come to hear him sing those songs and would rather he never did anything else.

Sandra (Marvin) and Adrian (Hansel) gave a beautiful rendition of Aladdin’s A Whole New World and we felt it a pity that people used to complain about the number of songs the guest singers were having a few tours back. To meet those complaints they are now only singing duets, not even one song each. Such a shame. This does by no means imply we didn’t like the duets. Quite the contrary! But there is so much talent on the stage; it would have been great to see more of it. These guys rock something fierce! But there you go, no pleasing everybody, as we learn every single tour. Someone will complain about some-thing. So now it’s the Germans complaining about the absence of guest singer solos LOL

A special mention must go to the flower medley, i. e. I Won’t Send Roses from Mack and Mabel and The Rose. How wonderful to be hearing the latter again. Always so emotional and a hauntingly beautiful song. Delightful money notes included. We were 100% sure he’d do the Mack and Mabel song, as were all of you, we are sure. Such a wonderfully cynical love song (Is it a love song? Or is it rather a stay-away-from-me-song, which natu-rally causes all women to be all the more determined to be loved by this man…). We like him mean. ;-) “He was a bastard” to quote Mr. Ball. It was the perfect vehicle to introduce the upcoming fun and frolics in Chichester, of course, and the 10-week UK tour (“and after that – who knows?”). Rehearsals for Mack and Mabel will begin in 1 June, he said.

The second half opened with Something Inside So Strong. What a blast from the past! We remember it from our very first tour in 1999. Great song.

Michael then gave us a tiny view of his world as a teenager. Do we remember 1978? He was 15, he was not having a great time and just so ready to be the rebel. It was the time of Punk and he loved it, everything. He had a razor blade hanging down a chain or his ear-ring (depending which of the two concerts you re-tell), he coloured his hair and tried to get it sticking up in spikes, which apparently does not work with curls. He did love all about it, apart from the music. Pogo-ing and spitting was just not his… then… now better watch out in the first rows, he laughed and introduced us a song that unexpectedly grabbed the top position of the charts, “You needed me”. We still try to imagine the little rebel Michael tried to be while watching Top of the Tops teary eyed.

Further highlights were the duet with Alice (Fearne), Falling Slowly from Once. They sound immensely beautiful together, wonderful harmonies. We remembered I Won’t Let You Go very well from the last tour and album Both Sides Now.

Angel and the title song completed the IF Everyone Was Listening section. We think that’s just five songs he didn’t sing and for one of those he would have needed The Overtones, so we kind of gathered this wasn’t going to happen. ;-)

We love a bit of Blood Brothers so were very happy he included Tell Me It’s Not True even when this meant the bunnies and Julia’s mum were singing it all the way to Birmingham. It’s one of these songs that stick with you even though they are terribly hard to sing and thus the noises in our car rather resembled those of cats being strangled instead of the dulcet tones we remembered from the night before. But hey, girls just wanna have fun!

We wondered whether he’d maybe do Katy Perry. But we were wrong in two aspects: We thought he might open with it and that it would be Fireworks. Instead it was Roar and placed right at the end of the evening to begin “party time”. We THINK the plan was to start the dash to the front and dancing in the aisles with Happy (arranged with a little twist) but as soon as people hear an upbeat song towards the end of the night, they will be on their feet.

No surprises in the last four numbers, just well-loved classics to bring an intensely enter-taining evening to a close that will leave you exhausted from all the clapping and dancing – and grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

Song list
Part I
1. Wake Me Up
2. Need You Now
3. Simple Love
4. Jessie
5. I Won’t Give Up
6. The Climb
7. Stuck like Glue
8. Can You Feel the Love Tonight
9. Last Night of the World
10. All I Ask of You
11. A Whole New World (duet with Sandra and Adrian)
12. I Won’t Send Roses/The Rose

Part II
1. Something Inside So Strong
2. I Won’t Let You Go
3. You Needed Me
4. Angel
5. Falling Slowly (duet Alice and Michael)
6. If Everyone Was Listening
7. Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
8. Tell Me It’s Not True
9. Roar
10. Happy
11. One Step Out of Time
12. The Wonder of You
Encores:
You Can’t Stop the Beat
Love Changes Everything


Birmingham – 12 April 2015

After glorious sunshine in London winter came to Birmingham. Or so it felt to us. Grey skies and cool temperatures as well as a forecast of heavy rains and gusty winds didn’t make for joyous stage dooring. But the rain kindly waited until 5pm to start (but boy, DID it start then).

Michael kindly came to the stage gate at the Symphony Hall and everyone got their auto-graphs and a quick chat.
The venue is so much nicer than the Apollo in London and Birmingham is always a fantas-tic crowd. Michael had said he was relived that London was out of the way (a lot of pres-sure there) and from the first note he seemed more relaxed and enjoying himself. The au-dience welcomed him home (he was born just out of Birmingham) like a long lost son.

At one point he asked, if we were listening to his Radio 2 show. And when everyone cheered he said, well it’s aired each Sunday night at 7pm, looking at his watch, he made a dash for the door, then stopped and said “It’s on now. Isn’t technology amazing?”.

It all seemed to be over far too soon, especially since we were leaving on the next day for home instead of Brighton. This pain was only eased by the sure knowledge that we would be back for York and the rest of the tour.

We hope you like the photos as we are experimenting with our camera a bit.

Still, no amount of photos will ever be a replacement for a DVD. We know already that this will be the recurring theme at stage doors.
One week to go and then we are back in the UK and hope to provide you with lots of photo evidence of the tour. 

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