Can musical theatre stars ‘cross over’?

There are many people in this world fortunate enough to have been born with a particular gift for something, but not everyone is able to utilise their gifts to their full potential and actually become successful through them. If you can manage to make a career for yourself doing something that you love, then you’re one of the lucky few. Talent alone will get you only so far, but combined with opportunity, timing, and not forgetting hard work, it can take you anywhere and everywhere – if you  have the imagination to stretch those wings and fly without limits.

What do I mean by ‘without limits’? I mean, the ability to extend beyond your comfort zone and not only explore other areas, but conquer them too. It’s all too easy to fall complacent and be content with being the big fish in a small pond, but the real adventure, the real risk, is to challenge yourself to leap out of that pond and into a sea of unending possibilities. Some try and fail, and some try and succeed, but do those fish ever really escape the small pond?

I was at my mum’s house the other day putting her DVD collection in order, which meant sorting them into different genres and then arranging them alphabetically (I’m kind of OCD about things like that…). I’d separated films from TV series and musicals from music artists, and was working my way through the pile when I came across a couple of Michael Ball DVDs, and subsequently became slightly stumped as to where exactly Mr Ball belonged.

Michael Ball is, of course, most famously known as a musical theatre performer. He has played so many iconic roles, perhaps most notably creating the role of Marius in the original London cast of Les Miserables back in 1985, which marked his West End début He’s returned many more times since then, taking over from Steve Barton as Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, originating the role of  Alex in Aspects of Love, and also playing Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. It was this latter role which won him his first Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical. The second came in 2013 for his performance as Sweeney Todd in the Chichester Festival Theatre’s revival of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

He has also branched out to become a popular TV and radio presenter – not forgetting his Eurovision success when he represented the United Kingdom in 1992 and came in second with the song ‘One Step Out of Time’. He is also a multi-platinum recording artist and has performed in concert all around the world, finding a wider audience beyond musical theatre fans. Other stage stars have managed to establish themselves as crossover artists like this, forging a career for themselves outside of the theatre industry and avoiding being typecast as musical theatre actors/actresses only. Michael Ball has released numerous albums over the years, covering both musical theatre songs and contemporary material, and has a huge fan following, with his concert performances attracting people who admire him as a singer, not a musical theatre star.

This was the trouble I had when it came to categorising him in my mum’s DVD collection. For musical theatre fans, the name Michael Ball is instantly synonymous with musical theatre; he’s a West End leading man and a legend in the industry for the roles he’s played. He’s also a highly successful and well-known recording artist and concert performer outside of his stage achievements however…so does he belong in the musical theatre section, or the music artist section?

In the end, I put him in with her other concert DVD’s, but only because the one she had of him were ‘live in concert’ recordings and not ‘Michael Ball sings musical theatre songs’. It was a tough call though, and this is my point about whether crossover artists ever truly do cross over. Non-musical theatre fans may well be able to see people like Michael Ball as a stand-alone singer, but for the rest of us, he’ll always be a musical theatre performer first and foremost. The success he’s had in his career away from musicals is phenomenal and he should be applauded for what he has managed to achieve, but sorry Michael…you’ll always be the guy who played Marius, Alex, Sweeney Todd, and so many other iconic roles on the West End stage to me

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Tuesday 21st April 2015

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