On August 16 and 17, musical theatre fans are in for a rare treat when Michael Ball comes to the capital and wraps up the SummerFest schedule. Mark Spence spoke to the multi-talented man with the big voice.
Two-time Olivier Award winner Michael Ball is Britain’s leading musical star. Having wowed crowds all over the world, and coming straight off the back of a sold out UK tour, he’s bringing an extra special show to Abu Dhabi where he’ll perform a set dedicated to blockbuster productions such as Les Misérables, Lion King, Phantom Of The Opera and many, many more with the British Philharmonic Orchestra.
Is this your first time in Abu Dhabi?
Yes. I have to be careful with my voice because the air con isn’t too good for it, but as long as I’m hydrated I’ll be fine.
What sort of show can the people of Abu Dhabi expect from ‘Michael Ball Sings The Musicals’?
Normally I wouldn’t do a show that was just purely about musical theatre, but I really wanted to do this because there’s such a revival in the interest of it.
Having started way back with the cast of Les Misérables I wanted to pay tribute to those writers of the British musical who I’ve worked with and who have been a really important part of my career and life. People like Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice and so on. Also, I wanted to do other songs that have been important to me or that have influenced me. I know what it’s like to be sat in the audience and hear a song and how it brings back such clear, powerful memories. It’s a very emotional thing and that’s what I want this show to be with big spectacular staging and an orchestra.
Are there still some songs that you find a real challenge to sing and perform?
There are some songs that are still physically really challenging and that require a lot of emotion as well. The thing about musical theatre that affects the audience so much is that it’s able to convey far higher and more intense emotional responses than anything else. You can say more in a line of music than you can in pages of words, but if you have great words with great music it really does have a visceral effect.
For example, something like ‘Empty Chairs At Empty Tables’ from Les Misérables is an absolutely heartbreaking song so in order to sing it convincingly it’s about hitting the emotions right and understanding what it feels like to be man who’s lost all of his friends fighting for what they believed in and he’s left behind. The guilt he feels, the relief that he’s alive and coming to terms with all of that but it’s also really hard to sing because it’s all big, long, high notes that you have to hold for a week and a half!
Do you have to go through any particular routine in order to protect your voice?
I’m not precious but the best thing I ever did for my voice was give up smoking. I was a really heavy smoker. I’d smoke between 20 and 40 cigarettes a day and it really started affecting my voice. It was really hard to stop but I did and haven’t looked back. It had an almost instant, magical effect on my voice. My breathing was better, the notes were purer and my stamina was much better. I’d always be smoking in the studio and sometimes it was just showing off. I remember recording ‘Love Changes Everything’ in the studio as I was actually exhaling [smoke].
Do you ever get nervous about going on stage?
Absolutely. Every time. Especially if I’m going into unknown territory, and Abu Dhabi is unknown territory for me because I don’t know who the audience is going to be. I just want to do a good job for the people who are there.
You’ve also been a judge on the UK reality TV show Soapstar Superstar. What’s it like being sat in that chair and having to judge people on such a public platform?
The way I think about is if someone has applied to do something like that they want help, they want guidance and constructive criticism. Everyone can be better but I don’t think people should set out to be malicious or score points.
How do you tend to respond if you receive harsh criticism then?
Really badly! If it’s just someone being malicious I don’t care but it cuts if there’s an element of truth in what someone is saying about you. That can be difficult but you take it on board. In some ways it’s more dangerous to read the good things that people write. For example, if someone says there’s a particular point in the performance that really works, the next time you remember it and it affects how you do it. Criticism can make you self-conscious.
Do you ever get strange fan requests? What’s been the weirdest?
When I was doing Chitty [Chitty Bang Bang] a suitcase turned up at the stage door [for me]. Inside were some pyjamas, some underwear, a pair of socks, a packed lunch with pickled onions and pickled cabbage along with some cheese and tomato sandwiches. There was also a toothbrush, some toothpaste and a ticket to North Wales because some lady had booked a caravan holiday for us! I have to say there was a tiny bit of me that wanted to turn up just to see her reaction.
You once had a very close scrape when you were pulled from a house fire in 2000. How does surviving something like that alter your general outlook on life?
Two days before Christmas I’d been to a party but had a terrible cold so I’d gone home and went to sleep in the spare room. The next thing I knew my partner was screaming and pulling me out of the house. An electrical fire had started just under where I was sleeping. My gold discs, my video archives, my photos and memorabilia and so on were all destroyed but my partner pulled me out, saved me and she’s never let me forget it since!
[When something like that happens] I think you take on a philosophical and practical point of view. I’m quite good in traumatic situations [now] because I become very level-headed and sensible. At the end of the day we all got out safely and that’s all that matters. The stuff [we lost] is just stuff and you do get a perspective on what is precious.
Michael Ball Sings The Musicals will be at the Du Forum on Friday August 16 and Saturday August 17. Tickets start at Dhs100 and are available at www.summerfestabudhabi.com.