Michael Ball has many strings to his bow starting his career in theatre performing in productions such as Aspects of Love, Phantom on the Opera, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the original cast of Les Miserables.He is also a well known recording artist with Love Changes Everything, from Aspects of Love, being a big hit in the early 1990s.Since then he represented the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest and has had a string of very successful albums.But he is back in the theatre starring as Edna Turnblad in the West End production of Hairspray as well as releasing his new album Back to Bacharach last month.I caught up with Michael to talk music, theatre and dressing in women's clothes.
Your new album back to Bacharach has just been released why did you choose Bacharach music?Ive always been a fan of his, Ive done the odd song here and there in different albums, when I was sitting down thinking about what I wanted this album to be it struck me, looking at all of his catalogue and hes written hundreds of songs, would be really interesting and to see if we could find the twelve songs that would appeal to me the most and that we could do something with. And thats really how it came about I sort of realised that what Bacharach has done is written the next chapter of the great American song book he has taken over from the Gershwins and the Irvine Berlins and the James Canns and so on and that whey I did it they are brilliant songs, they are timeless.
How great a say did you have in which songs were recorded?
Complete say, nobody can make me sing something that I dont want to, Im lucky and I really could have sung any of his songs. The key was to take a song that people knew and find a way of doing it that wasnt changing the whole song making it completely different but updating it and we did that with the use of Chris Walden, who is the arranger, and he wrote these fabulous arrangements for an orchestra and a big brass section, that pay homage to the old style of Burt Bacharach but thrust it right into the 21st century at the same time.
You did begin your career in the theatre was it a conscious decision to become a recording artist?
Yeah when I came back from, I had just had a hit with Love Changes Everything, and when I came back from Broadway from doing Aspects I thought that there was more to life than just the theatre, the theatre will always be my first love, but I took time out to make an album and concentrate on doing concerts and step away from musical theatre because its more interesting and you have a broader music base, you get out to more people, and also it gives you more clout when you come back into the theatre you goes above the title, which is nice.
What drew you into a career in theatre?
I dont think I could have done anything else I really dont. I have always loved it and, I was never a kind of show off kid who was always trying to put on shows and being centre of attention, but I always loved going to the theatre and was always interested in music.
I got involved in the Surrey Country youth theatre which led me to go to drama school where I realised that this was going to have to be my career, and I was really lucky to big breaks early on.
You are currently staring as Edna in Hairspray how is that going?
Do you know what? Its outrageous its the best fun I have ever had in my life and I have done some fabulous things. First of all I have never read review like it wonderful reviews right across the board for the show and the people in it from the critics, the audiences are going mental and Im actually being paid for this its just brilliant.
And how comfortable are you in this role because it took John Travolta over twelve months to sign up for the film did you have similar reservations?
Im frighteningly comfortable. It took me about twelve minutes it really did. I saw this show about five years ago on Broadway and I thought it was one of the best shows I had ever seen in a theatre and it was a part I really wanted to play, I thought it would shock people if I played it not what people were expecting.
And to be able to do this two things have a really sophisticated album of Burt Bacharach at the same time Im playing Edna Turnblad it just great, you cant get two more diverse ends of the spectrum in the entertainment world than that, and thats what I love doing I love surprising people just when they think they know what Im capable of, what I can do and what I will do you go and turn all that on its head.
You are a well established theatre star is there any production over the years that is your favourite?
Im in it! I really am. No I have got an affection for all of them. Les Mis was an amazing experience, to be in the original cast of Les Miserables, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang got bless it that was fantastic, at the London Palladium the biggest theatre in London the most successful show that has ever been at the London Palladium, that was fantastic.
I have been really lucky, but truthfully I have never been happier in a show than I am now.
You have worked hard to establish yourself so what do you think of programmes of How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria and Joseph?
Well you know its interesting because the people that won those, shows the British public have good taste, the people that won it are professionals they studied, they had been to drama school, they had worked very hard. Lee Mead, who won Joseph, had been in a number of productions, he had been in a production of Joseph and Phantom of the Opera, and Connie had been in stuff as well and had not been long out of drama school, so these were professionals that won it.
And we have got Ben James Ellis, who came fourth in the Joseph programme, playing Link Larkin in Hairspray and he is great.
So and I think back to myself and when I was there age just starting out in the business would I have gone up for it? Yes sure I would, you do whatever you can to get your big break. It gives a show a bigger advantage in that they have an advertising campaign by the BBC, a free advertising campaign, that will naturally give them an audience.
What I dont like is the cruelty, far more in the Grease programme than any Dream Will Do, were you have David Ian saying to a forty five year old man you could be our Danny and no he couldnt he absolutely couldnt and if you give people false hope like that, depending on their temperament, that can be dangerous. So you have got to have a bit of realism thrown in there as well.
Do you think that these programmes make theatre more accessible to a younger generation?
Yeah absolutely. Anything that makes a new generation excited about theatre, excited about theatre, and want to come to it is a good thing I really do. I love the genre I think that its a fabulous way to entertain people and take them on a journey, making them understand things, entertaining them and making them feel better I just love it.
Its survived against all the odds, it keeps evolving, everyone says the theatre is going to die and its not, the West End theatre s more vibrant and has a bigger audience now than it ever has. And same around the country there is always live theatre going on and there will always be an audience as long as good stuff is out there you just have to keep finding new ways of introducing it to the population and to kids and if television is a way of doing that then fantastic.
Look at High School Musical kids are mental about that, thats going to go on tour and its gong to do really really well, they may have seen Hairspray at the cinemas and say well lets go see it at the theatre see what thats like, look at Dirty Dancing it doesnt matter get people into the theatre. Then when they are used to going then they can be far more circumspect about what they choose to go to see, they can work out whats good theatre and whats bad theatre.
You are also about to release One Voice One Special Night on DVD it was filmed at the Hammersmith Apollo is there any particular reason why this gig was chosen?
Its two minutes down the road and I ca get the number nine bus (laughs) you think Im lying dont you? Its absolutely true. I love the venue Ive been playing there since my very first concert tour, it was the Hammersmith Odeon then before it became the Hammersmith Apollo, I played on the Sunday night when it was the Odeon and the Monday night when it became the Apollo, so I closed an opened a venue. It got a fantastic history every actor has played there its a fantastic rock and pop venue.
And it is really near home, and when you are on the road I cant ell you how important that is, you travel for miles, you finish a gig, you get into the tour bus and you drive for two and a half three hours and you get into the next hotel and it becomes really tiring. You do this all your mates can come then you can all go home for a party its just the business.
The DVD sees you performing classic songs by Manilow as well as modern records by Winehouse how do you go about picking the running order?
What I do I think well what do the people buying tickets want to hear, what would they like to hear, and what would be surprised to hear and I always try to put together a show, rather like putting together a theatre musical, you take the audience on a journey.
One of the nicest things about that night, last year for Children In Need I put myself up for auction and a young girl got all her family and friend to chip together and the prize was to come and sing with me at a venue of their choice and she choose the Hammersmith Apollo, she came and sang A Little Fall of Rain, which is the duet from Les Mis, and she is only fifteen from North Wales and she was just lovely and we have kept it on the video for her.
Its a really smashing piece of video which shows the wonderful one off nature of live performances, which is why I love going to concerts, because that will never be repeated, luckily we have got it filmed, it was one special night for her so we have kept that in.
It was the best show that I have ever put together for a tour there are some great surprises in there and a fabulous reaction from the audience Im really proud of it.
And how important a part of your career is touring?
Oh really important because you can get stuck in one place, if you get stuck in London and the West End, then you have no clue what people are interested in or want to see in the rest of the country. And this is such a great country so to go travelling, to go to different towns, and meet fans who have bought records and DVDs and gone in coach parties to see shows you actually go to them and I love doing that.
And you spot the difference in audience round the country because different areas have different responses. I will always tour, its hard work it really is hard work, but the feedback and the buzz you get back from it is worth it.
Finally what is nest for you?
Im going to be in Hairspray for, well I have agreed to stay for six months, so after that Im not sure. But at the moment Im having the time of my life as I think Ive told you (laughs) so Im not even thinking about it. I am having a holiday at Christmas; its been two and a half years since I had a break, so we are getting two weeks off between Christmas and New Year so I cant wait.
Back to Bacharach is out now
One Voice One Special Night is released 19th November.
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw
tagged in Michael Ball