Born Michael Ashley Ball on June 27, 1962, near Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Education: Graduated from Guildford School of Acting, England, 1984. Addresses: Management--Gavin Barker Associates, Ltd., 2d Wimpole St., London W1M 7AA, England. Website--Michael Ball Official Website: http://www.michaelball.co.uk.
One of the most popular vocalists in the United Kingdom never took a singing lesson in his life. Michael Ball--star of musical theater, concert stage, television, and recording--trained as an actor before finding his natural voice in such shows as Les Miserables, Aspects of Love, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Born near Stratford-upon-Avon, England, on June 27, 1962, Ball showed an early talent for the theater. He studied drama at the Guildford School of Acting, from which he graduated in 1984. Singing was a hobby for the actor at that time, not a career goal. But it was in musicals, not dramas, that Ball found his first opportunity. His theatrical debut was a 1984 production of Godspell, which Ball opened as the character of John the Baptist/Judas. As Edward Seckerson interpreted it an Independent article, the moment Ball stepped on the stage to sing his first line ("Prepare ye the way of the Lord") "it felt electric, it felt right, he could feel the audience locking on to him. It was then that it hit him: this singing lark is a powerful force."
Ball went on to play Frederic in a regional production of The Pirates of Penzance. The role brought him to the attention of producer Cameron Mackintosh, who invited Ball to audition for the juvenile lead in a new production. This led to the role of Marius in Les Miserables in 1985, a part that helped cement the actor's reputation as a leading man.
After playing Raoul in a 1987 production of The Phantom of the Opera, he created the role of Alex in the West End premiere of Lloyd-Webber's Aspects of Love. Though Aspects of Love received mixed reviews, many critics were taken by the leading man. Time's William A. Henry III cited Ball as "the doomed boyish hero who ages into embittered manhood"; while Michael Sommes of Back Stage lauded "the baby-faced Ball's very likable quality (to say nothing of his solid gold B-flat)." Audiences flocked to the production and warmed in particular to the song "Love Changes Everything," which Ball sang in both the original London cast and on Broadway, where the show opened in 1990. The single hit number one on the British charts, making Ball a household name.
Diversifying his exposure, Ball represented Great Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1992. It was not the first time the singer was asked to compete at the prestigious yearly event, but in past years, "I didn't think it was right for me," as Ball told Rupert Smith of Campaign. "I used to watch it as a kid, when it was really big." But he performed anyway, finishing second with his rendition of "One Step out of Time." The exposure led to Ball's first solo album, Michael Ball, which topped the British charts and set the course for several more successful CD releases. In 1993 and 1994 the singer/actor turned to television to host an eponymous series. In 1995 Ball was invited to recreate his role as Marius in a tenth-anniversary production of Les Miserables.
Soon afterward he was back onstage in the original London cast of Stephen Sondheim's Passion, a two-character musical in which Ball played Giorgio, a handsome sailor who enters into an unlikely romance with a homely, ailing woman. The show won the 1996 London Evening Standard Theater Award as best new musical. After it closed, concerts became Ball's priority. He had a sellout national 1999 tour, during which he introduced the first song he had ever written, "Someone Else's Dream."
But the stage beckoned again, and Ball took the starring role in a new musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, based on the Ian Fleming book and the 1968 film. The score, by Richard and Robert Sherman, tells the story of inventor Caractacus Potts (Ball), who invents a magical flying car. In the company of ingenue Truly Scrumptious, his wacky father, and his two high-spirited children, Potts takes his car on a series of adventures designed to delight the younger members of the audience. (Indeed, the show "makes most Disney cartoons look sophisticated," noted Hollywood Reporter critic Bill Hagerty.)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opened at the Palladium in June of 2002. Despite a nerve-wracking second night, when "Chitty went bang and refused to work," according to Time International, the show was well received by audiences, posting $11 million in advance sales. Time's James Inverne singled out the "honey-voiced Michael Ball" for praise among the cast.
As he approached his fortieth birthday, Ball explored yet another aspect of his public image with a highly personal cabaret debut, Alone Together, performed at London's Donmar Warehouse as part of director Sam Mendes's "Divas in the Donmar" series in September of 2001. In this show Ball peeled away the trappings of celebrity to reach the audience through song, relying "not on chitchat or a hand mic but on sheer empathy with his material," according to reviewer Matt Wolf of Variety. "Can this be Michael Ball, you may wonder, remembering the fluffy-haired, rather anodyne belter who starred in London and on Broadway?" Wolf continued. "It is, and yet different--a darker, more burnished figure." In the words of Seckerson, "Ball has always thrived on the cabaret format, the challenge of juxtaposing many different kinds of song and quickly establishing an emotional world for each of them. He's an easy communicator."
Ball signed with the EMI label in early 2003, and began recording a solo album to be released later in the year. His run with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as "Caractacus Potts" ended in July of 2003.
by Susan Salter
Michael Ball's Career
Performed in stage musicals, beginning with Godspell, 1984; other musicals include The Pirates of Penzance, 1984; Les Miserables, 1985; The Phantom of the Opera, 1987; Aspects of Love, 1989; Passion, 1996; and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 2002; represented Great Britain at the Eurovision Song Contest, 1992; hosted Michael Ball television series, 1993-94; made film debut in England, My England, 1995; performed in concert tour and cabaret, including Sondheim Tonight and one-man show, Alone Together, 2001; host of radio series, Ball on Broadway.
Michael Ball's Awards
Variety Club of Great Britain Awards, Best Newcomer, 1988, Recording Artist of the Year, 1998; Eurovision Song Contest, second prize, 1992; Theatergoer's Club of Great Britain, Most Popular Actor, 1999.
- Selected discography
- Les Miserables (original London cast), Relativity, 1985.
- Aspects of Love (original London cast), Decca Broadway, 1989.
- Michael Ball , Polydor, 1992.
- Always , Polydor, 1993.
- One Careful Owner , Columbia, 1994.
- Best of Michael Ball , Polygram, 1995.
- First Love , Columbia, 1996.
- Musicals , Universal, 1996.
- Movies , Polygram, 1998.
- Christmas , Universal, 1999.
- This Time It's Personal , Universal, 2000.
- Very Best of Michael Ball: In Concert at the Royal Albert Hall , Universal, 2000.
- Centre Stage , Hip-O, 2001.
- Collection , Spectrum, 2001.
- Michael Ball , Polygram, 2001.
- Phantom of the Opera (original London cast), remastered, Polygram, 2001.
- Secrets of Love , Spectrum, 2001.
- Songs of Love , Sony, 2001.
- Stage and Screen , Music Club International, 2001.
- Centre Stage , Universal, 2001.
- Back Stage, April 13, 1990.
- Campaign, March 27, 1992.
- Hollywood Reporter, June 11, 2002.
- Independent, September 5, 2001; April 20, 2002.
- Nation, May 7, 1990.
- Time, April 16, 1990; July 3, 1990.
- Time International, May 13, 2002.
- Variety, July 16, 2001; September 24, 2001.
- Michael Ball Official Website, http://www.michaelball.co.uk (June 24, 2003).