Ipswich: I can’t believe what women go through to get ready says Regent-bound singer Michael Ball
- Credit: Archant
Award-winning musical theatre star and platinum recording artist Michael Ball talks false boobs, misbehaving trapdoors and coming to Ipswich with entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE
“There are so many great memories of Hairspray I hardly know where to start... in the early days it was about getting dressed in less than two hours. I mean the tights, the heels, the make-up. I couldn’t believe what women go through to get ready – never mind the massive false boobs and the fat suit,” says Ball of his Laurence Olivier Award winning turn as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.
“In the end I got it down to about 40 minutes. We also had a wonderful company; I loved working with everyone and because we were at the Shaftesbury for almost two years we really did become like family. We would do warm-ups onstage every day – the ‘kids’ in their Spandex, me in my sweat pants, catching up on last night’s gossip.”
New album Both Sides Now went straight to number eight in the charts on its release. The tour comes to the Ipswich Regent on April 15.
“It’s fantastic having a top 10 album, I’m really chuffed,” says Ball of the CD, which includes songs by the likes of Katie Melua, Joan Armatrading, Dolly Parton and his all-time favourite Joni Mitchell.
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“I was surprised no one had covered Joan Armatrading’s Love and Affection before, it’s such a powerful song and we had great fun recording it. I think Katie Melua is a terrific performer; she always brings out the best in a song. As for Dolly Parton, I had the pleasure of interviewing her in Dollywood – amazing place - for my radio show a couple of years ago.
“Joni Mitchell entered my life when I was about 17 or 18, busking around town with a friend. We found Joni’s songs were absolutely perfect for us and the more I listened to them the more I realised what an extraordinary talent she is. I chose to cover Both Sides Now because the way you interpret it at the age of 50 is very different from the way you sing it when you’re 20.”
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Ball says Mitchell’s composition provided the perfect title for the album, which also features some classic musical theatre songs and new songs by world famous composers.
Was it a conscious plan to bring together the two worlds he’s most comfortable and successful in – the stage and studio?
“Very much so. I wanted to record songs by some of my favourite songwriters and the fact Andrew Lloyd Webber gave me a brand new song – The Perfect Song – was a real honour. The lyrics are by the great Leslie Bricusse and I think between them they’ve won literally dozens of Academy Awards, Oliviers, Tonys, Grammys and more – I hope I’ve done it justice.
“It was also great to record Tim Rice’s brilliant new composition, Fight the Fight, from the new page-to-stage musical From Here to Eternity, which opens in October. Tim sent me a demo then I talked to him about my idea of wanting it to sound West Coast/country rock/Eagles which he loved.”
The Perfect Song has an interesting origin.
“I was at a party just before Christmas last year, in Downing Street no less, and was chatting to Andrew over a nice glass of wine. I told him I was recording a new album. He said ‘actually Michael, I’ve just written a new song with Leslie Bricusse and I think you should have it. I was in Los Angeles for Leslie’s 82nd birthday and Michael Caine, who was there as well, asked Leslie and me if we’d ever written a song together. We realised we hadn’t and thought it was a great idea.’
“Andrew then told me Leslie came up with the title and he wrote the music in the back of a cab on the way home. He then sent the music to Leslie and Leslie wrote the lyrics. I can’t wait to perform it live.”
Ball was back in the recording studio straight after his acclaimed run in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. He says it and performing live both have their own appeal.
“I love being onstage; there’s absolutely nothing like connecting with a live audience whether I’m in character in a musical theatre production or whether I’m on tour with the band. Every night is unique; no two shows are the same and every audience reacts in a different way. I love engaging with the audience and knowing they’re having a good time.
“What I love about recording in the studio – apart from the fact I can wear what I like – is working with the producer, musicians and backing singers; throwing around ideas and getting the sound I want out of each song.”
On the topic of Todd, he remembers one scary moment he and co-star Imelda Staunton had onstage one night.
“She’s not only the most brilliant woman I’ve ever worked with, she’s also the funniest. When we were rehearsing I was in tears, she made me laugh so much. She’s bad.
“One night, Sweeney’s just slit the throat of his latest victim who’s sitting in the barber’s chair... there’s a lever at the back that Sweeney pulls so his unfortunate victim slides straight off the chair into the basement to be made into pies by the evil Mrs Lovett; Imelda of course.
“I pulled the lever but the actor got stuck halfway down the chair and juddered to a squeaky halt, ‘blood’ going everywhere; then I suddenly saw a hand shoot out of the basement, grab said actor’s ankle and yank him down. It was ghastly and hilarious at the same time. To this day I don’t know if the audience noticed, it all happened so fast.”
Ball’s father wanted to be an actor and, living quite near Stratford Upon Avon when he was very young, his parents loved going to the theatre and took him along.
“When I was about 12 I went to see Jesus Christ Superstar and was absolutely blown away. I thought it was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen onstage and I knew I just somehow had to be involved, that maybe this was my calling.”
An award-winning musical theatre star, platinum recording artist and TV and radio presenter, he must look back on his career sometimes and pinch himself.
“Every day. And it hurts. Seriously though, I know how incredibly lucky I’ve been and I’ve loved every minute of it. I still love doing what I do and I have no plans to stop any of it.”
He’s often asked what advice he would give his younger self or aspiring artists looking to follow in his footsteps? The advice is always the same.
“It might sound obvious but keep your CV up to date, do your homework and be aware of what’s going on; see as many shows as you can, practice, focus, be determined, know your strengths and keep at it. Talent will out in the end, it always does; so if you’ve got it get it out there.”
To the show at the Regent; what can audiences expect?
“Songs from the new album, songs from some of the greatest musicals, but don’t forget to bring your party shoes.”
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