Michael Ball - alone together

Home Page / The Story / The Songs / The Lyrics Act I / The Medley Lyrics / Lyrics Act II /
Lyric Changes / Sound ClipsJason Carr / Jonathan Butterell /Reviews /Interviews /
Your Reaction / MBFC Forum Discussion / In Concert / Links and Credits


The MBFC Forum Discussion
 


 

Page 2 of 4

1 / 2 / 3 / 4

Just want to tell you all that I consider ALONE TOGETHER (Donmar) a real bit of genius.  One-man shows have long been admired, but I have never seen or heard of one done completely in song.  This is as good as it gets.

Phyllis

I’ve loved reading all these thoughts…keep thinking of the remarks Michael has made himself about it and thinking, no, you got it wrong, - and then thinking, yes, but his is actually only one other opinion—OK a rather more informed one, but he changes his story anyway—he has said for instance, that THE MAN THAT  GOT AWAY was the father singing about himself and then in a later interview that it was the character about the father.  We’ve had this problem before – I wish he’d given this guy a NAME so we could call him something.  He’s (Michael) also gone from it’s totally a character to it’s very autobiographical – with every stop in between…personally I think that like all great actors he drew very heavily on his own and those around him emotions, without always relating them in direct parallel to the character’s emotions and life.  He has also said there’s a descent into abuse of all kinds in there – drink, drugs, and various excesses.  (The HAPPY TALK question which has been raised here.)  Like all good creative work, what you get from it and read into it is partly what the creator(s) out there and partly what you put into it yourself – and there are surely no ‘wrong’ interpretations.   ) tho I do have to admit to cringing at the handful of people who laughed at I GOT NO STRINGS one night I was there)

Pat S

What do you think about this?  His father is alcoholic and all wrapped up in  himself.  He did not indicate much concern for his child in LITTLE PAL. “ He puts all his responsibilities on his son and leaves, apparently never to return.   LITTLE PAL is the adult remembering the child’s pain.  THE MAN WHO GOT AWAY is the adult remembering his pain at this first desertion and the pain he saw in his mother.  THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD is the child attempting to take his father’s place.  He doesn’t finish the song, not completely.  He can’t take his father’s place and be the man his mother needs.  SAY A LITTLE PRAYER is also the adult remembering his mother.  He wanted to take care of her, ‘forever, together you’ll stay in my heart and I will love you…’.  That was the memory…this is now ‘at night when I’m lonely, my thoughts are for you dear only…to live without you only means heartache for me’.  The song changes, his mother has died and he is alone.  His mother’s death lets him say good-by to both his parents.  He feels incomplete and broken, but he must find his own life.

For the first time there are no strings to tie him to anyone.  I love my liberty he sings, but he doesn’t feel free.  He may say no strings, but his memories still hold him.  He tries to live his life in the moment “now not some forgotten yesterday” And he may have discovered his father’s vision of life “if that’s all there is, let’s bring on the booze and have a ball…if that’s all”.   He found he did have a dream and a chance for a life.  He found a life on the stage.  If you are not happy, you can pretend to be happy.   You can learn to move forward, to smile when you are low, to work hard and have a star hanging on your door.

Ronnie

Pat, I was thinking today that we have all probably analyzed this thing way more than even the creative team did.  I imagine that just as our own impressions have evolved with continued exposure to the show, Michael’s did too.  I doubt he had a completely clear-cut story line in mind, and the songs probably struck him in different ways as he worked his way through the performances. So yeah, unless someone saw it as a comedy I’d say there are no really wrong interpretations.  That’s not to say there aren’t comic elements, which there certainly are!  One thing that is tricky for people, I think is that the lyrics don’t fit neatly into the idea any particular person is working on.  Without writing new music, it was going to be impossible to make the show perfectly straightforward.  Rather than focusing on a certain word or lyric line blowing a theory, a listener needs to look at prevailing ideas being conveyed by the song.  Certain lines will be the ones that strike any given listener the most strongly and will make their overall impression lean in that direction and if a certain lyric doesn’t quite fit that idea, that doesn’t matter.  It’s more abstract than that.  This is how I see it anyway…I definitely do think he is drinking in HAPPY TALK, in a light party-time way, and then in a heavy, self-destructive way in BEST OF TIMES ‘live as HARD as you know how’.  That first drag on the cigarette done with such gusto and relishment (is that even a word????) has all the look of a man who is going to b****y well enjoy his vices and to h**l with the consequences  ‘tomorrow is too far away’.  He’s a man on a bad path at that point…living his dream, yes, but eating himself up at the same time.

Layers, layers…this show has so many layers.

Here’s a question…why is the character even telling us this story?  Surely he doesn’t go through this process of self-torture before every show he does…it seems to me we have met this character at a turning point in his life…we just happened to come along at the time when he makes this decision to examine his life.  I do think it is a conscious decision.  SO, to me, this part of it is one of those little parallels between the character and Michael…I think Donmar represents a significant life moment for each of them.  The intro has got to be autobiographical and surely speaks to Michael’s own insecurities about the show itself don’t you think?  Listening to WHERE OR WHEN makes me think of the line between the character’s real life and his stage life being blurred…’the tricks the mind can play’ that he allows himself to be as obliterated as possible by his stage persona.  And the look on his face suggests that he is beginning to realize this is not okay anymore.

In BLUE to me he is making that conscious decision to put himself through what he is about to do.  He doesn’t really want to look at his scars or try to heal them…it would be easier to just let things go on as they are ‘crown and anchor me’ or he could take this journey of self discovery and find a life that moves forward again ‘let me sail away…You’ve got to keep thinking you can make it through the waves…some say Hell’s hip, but I don’t think so, I’m gonna take a look around…’ It’s as if he’s singing that song to himself…convincing himself to do this thing…realizing he may have something to offer himself.

PADAM, oh my.  This song is really something.  It seems like I read once that he may have toned it down some from the preview shows?  I don’t know…I think it needs to be very powerful.  The stamping foot makes me think of hammer blows, that the memories are that painful…he sings it with such a fury as he goes along…it is as if he has to physically take hold of himself and ‘drag’ himself through the knothole of his own resistance; to reliving the memories, to looking back at his own mistakes.  Can anyone who was there at previews, and then at later shows say whether this song changed any?

Donna, after my latest watching, I still have the same take on the ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD/SAY A LITTLE PRAYER part as I did.  Like you, Ronnie, I see him singing ONLY GIRL to his Mom, he is looking up at her (a little boy) with all the adoration and love a little boy has for his Mom and he wants to take care of her, to make everything okay…to be the little man of the house now…little boys have a romance with their Moms and we see it in his face.  When he trails off into ‘and you…’ and his focus shifts physically downward and looks SO sad; to me that is when he lost his mother.  In the transition from one song to the next, time has passed, and he is now an adult, remembering the love he had for his Mom and the pain of losing her.  Even now thoughts of her color his waking moments and he misses her.  He loved her so.  And he becomes upset, remembering the anger he felt when she abandoned him by dying.  By the end of the song he is singing up to her in the heavens.  How could she leave him?  Even the line in the MOTHER/FATHER bit still works for me.  “Mother I needed you, but you didn’t need me”.  To me that is the child in him saying if you’d loved me enough, needed me enough, you would have lived cos children think that way.  So anyway that’s how it strikes me!

Like you Ronnie I see THE MAN WHO GOT AWAY as a definite song directed at his Father, reflecting both his loss and the witnessed pain of his mother.

Last random thoughts:

The piano playing of Jason Carr is wonderful and really essential to the story.  He created so much mood by using a certain amount of pressure on the keys (banging or gently playing them) or by discordance in the tune, using notes slightly off the proper key (or whatever) making the notes clank or jar or sparkle and flow…it is really amazing!  I love the transition between NICE DREAM/SOLITUDE…the way he blends the melodies so the change is seamless.

I love the way he used his body language in the beginning of SHE TOUCHED ME…the way he whirls about and looks behind him…it looks JUST like someone snuck up and tapped him and dashes off and he turns to find no one there…such a brilliant way to convey that he was caught by surprise by love (I’m starting to repeat myself.)

The last song that is part of the show (cos I think AFTER THE BALL is Michael – and isn’t his smile at the end of that wonderful???) has been interpreted by some as representing a new romance (THIS IS WHAT IT IS) but I don’t think it is.  I think it is his new relationship with life he is singing of.  I love the way he sings the line, ‘this is what it is to know the day and meet the sun…’

And that’s my last thing…(really I promise!!!) his voice.   Good heavens, it is spectacular isn’t it!  The way he captures the ‘vaudeville sound’ in the medley…the amazing soaring and powerful notes…how ‘bout that final, soaring (from the basement to the Gods) note in STAIRWAY TO PARADISE????  Or the howls of despair in WHAT NOW MY LOVE…how does he manage in the midst of the tears and desperation of the character to still sound so GOOD?  No matter if he was whispering, crooning deeply, belting, high notes, low notes, and hindered by the emotions of the character, his voice was superb throughout.  What an absolute treat it must have been for those of you who were able to see it live!  That medley must have been beyond belief!!!

Katy

That’s why I cannot make up my mind – every time I watch it and every time I devour the reviews and musings of you guys, I get to think about it all over again in another way – much like a kaleidoscope.  Maybe it’s the mood that it creates and the kaleidoscopic messages that one reads that’s the essence of the show.
You’re right about the lyrics – it wasn’t meant for the entire lyrics to convey the message (as these songs were originally written in different contexts) – but certainly a word, a phrase, a sentence or two, and occasionally the entire song were used to convey a definitive meaning.

Josie

I love that part too (transition between NICE DREAM/SOLITUDE).  One thing that jumped out at me was what Jason did with his two hands on these two songs, especially NICE DREAM.  The right hand (high notes) plays a pattern that has a 1-2-3 1-2-3 feel, so there are two main beats to each measure.  But then the left hand (low notes) every now and then plays a pattern with one note for every two in the right hand, more of a 1-2 1-2 1-2 feel, or three main beats in each measure.  The overall effect is unsettling, but in a subtle way.  Which so perfectly captures the mood at this point of the show.  The 1-2-3 1-2-3 lilting pattern could be the ‘nice dream’ that he wishes for, but the 1-2 1-2 1-2 against, that is the reality that the dream won’t come true.  I agree with you, Katy, that Jason Carr was brilliant at setting the mood for each song.  He’s an outstanding accompanist, I think, very sensitive to Michael’s vocals.

Debbie U

I can’t imagine laughing either even though it is on video...I was not laughing at GOT  NO STRINGS…I don’t know if at times I could have applauded I was so into it all…so very much drawn into everything.  Katy, I think character telling story because he has gone through so much and came out into the light…a new beginning…a time to move on.  But first you have to go back and get rid of all that is still causing pain…to let go of the past before you can go forward.
As to the SAY A PRAYER I do see your point of view and am open to that interpretation…but…I keep going back to ‘good riddance…good by’ angry turns away…when he turns back he’s looking like a young man relaxed…happy…seems to be a different time in his life…in the story…as tho time has past and now he is a young man…meeting his first love…the look in his eyes when he looks up…to me he is seeing “her” ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD…as time goes by things again go wrong…SAY A LITTLE PRAYER starts off upbeat…turns angry…she left him…pain and anger again…so when he sings MOTHER…he has by that time lost his Mother (died) his Father (gone or dead) and his first love…later in story talks about losing the person he loved…this before SHE TOUCHED ME so it seems he had been in love before then.

I do think this is an amazing show of Michael’s talent as actor and singer…how he did that for two weeks…beyond me…I do agree with MAN WHO GOT AWAY thoughts.  In WHAT NOW MY LOVE did you pick up the gesture to ‘stars tumbling around’ same gesture…different expression…feeling…re ‘I wonder why’ stars twinkling in my eyes.

For all you who have not seen ALONE TOGETHER, the video is wonderful.  If all you do is listen to the all the songs…and don’t bother how they fit…it is a wonderful experience.

Donna K

What good reading these reviews are.  I really would not know where to start so thanks to everyone.  The more I watch this video, the more I read into it.  It is sheer genius – I can’t find the words to express my admiration to all who put these songs together in such a magical way, but most of it is Michael’s feeling and interpretation of the lyrics.  We hear well known songs sung in a way they have never been done before.  I was lucky enough to see the performance live – what an experience.
Joan

It’s funny you should ask why the performer is telling us his story in the first place.  I was wondering that myself.  In WHERE OR WHEN THERE are a few lines such as ‘sometimes you think you’ve lived before’ and ‘the things you knew come back to you as if they knew the way’ or ‘somethings that happened the first time seem to be happening again’.  Hope those quotes are right.  Which made me think that aside from being a way of taking the audience back into his past at some point during the song the character is realizing that he is becoming the same as his father making the same mistakes his father made and he is frightened that history is going to repeat it self.  That is why he then goes on this journey to look at his life and to try and stop it happening before it’s too late.
Marie

You are so right that there is no wrong way to tell this story.   You just need an outline to fill in the details.  ‘Songs are like tattoos’, the outline can be the same, but the details and the colors will change.

PADAM, PADAM is the song that lived in my head, but the center of the show is HOW DID I LOSE YOU.  Do you notice the music just repeats, softly and without change, like a music box.  The emotion and the pain are all in his voice.

Ronnie

I have been struggling a bit with SAY A LITTLE PRAYER.  I thought from the off that it was the father singing for the family he left behind but there is no spotlight so that kind of blows that theory out of the water.  So today I have watched the video again.  I put in an earlier post what my thoughts were on THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY and IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD, so if I follow that train of thought I get to…

IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD.  The two people left behind have developed a strong bond between the two of them.  It is the two of them against the world.  SAY A LITTLE PRAYER.  So throughout his early years and into adolescence the child sees himself as his mother’s protector, confidant, and later on into adulthood the provider.  MOTHER.  I don’t think this is the mother dying (that comes later in NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS).  It’s more that over the years the mother has recovered her self esteem and confidence and rebuilt her life.  She now doesn’t need to rely on her son so heavily for support.  In the first verse the son is feeling betrayed.  For a long time he had this role to carry out, his life mapped out in front of him and he knew where he stood because of it.  The second verse the son is saying that he never felt he had his father’s love even though he’d tried to be a good son.  It had been a one-way street.  In the last verse the son is saying look what you’ve done to me, you complicated my life and gave me all these responsibilities when I should have been enjoying growing up.  One way or another he feels both parents have let him down because of this he finds himself free for the first time in his life, he only has himself to worry about.  So in a sense in GOT NO STRINGS the character is cutting his apron strings and his ties in the past and moving on to a new phase in his life.

I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else.  I agree that there probably no one answer to what the story was.  Michael said he wanted to make us think and he sure succeeded.

Marie

Marie or Donna had said something about how did he do this for two weeks?  And I had been thinking what a double-edged sword that fact is.  I imagine that this show wrung Michael out pretty well.  When he’s in concert he does a brilliant job of ‘acting’ the songs, especially those from shows, but those are individual songs, within a concert format which contains other moods for him to play with and provide comic or just happier relief to himself.  This show is one long intense laying out of all the harsher emotions and I would think a show like this would HAVE to be a short run for the performer of the show to survive it.   If it had gone on so long that he had to start protecting himself from the pain of it, then it would have lost much of it’s strength and worth wouldn’t it?  BUT…on the other hand I wish it could have gone on for longer, cos a show with such a short run reaches a much smaller audience, and this show just showcases all his talents so brilliantly.

Pat, I was thinking about the people who laughed at GOT NO STRINGS…perhaps they were laughing at his ironic expressions at first, not realizing or interpreting that part as so serious as others did.  Or they might have even been laughing out of relief, the part preceding that was SO sad, maybe it was that sort of ‘thank goodness that painful part is over’ sort of laugh.  Like the way people sometimes laugh after a scary part of a movie…just so happy to leave that other, unpleasant emotion behind.

Marie, your latest batch of thoughts makes perfect sense!  No matter what ways we each look at it, it can make sense equally well!  That is so interesting!

Ronnie, I know just what you mean about the music box sound of HOW CAN I LOSE YOU.  That’s one thing that is so SAD about it…it sounds like a child’s music box…childhood is supposed to be happy and free of care…and this poor thing obviously did NOT have that kind of childhood.

Katy

Seeing the first half so far, I realized though I have seen it six times, each time from a great seat, there is still so much I missed from his facial expression.  I heard some people complaining, thinking he over-acted at parts.  It might seem for you like this just seeing it on tape, but it definitely was not in the theatre, at least not from my point of view.

Katy, I have to agree completely with you.  The show itself must have been so extremely demanding physically and emotionally.  He did not act this, he lived it.  I don’t think he could have done much more than six shows per week and two weeks.  He would not even do that many concerts per week during a tour and I guess this show was far more demanding.

The show is made for such a small theatre, the Donmar was just perfect for it.  It would not work in a bigger one.  Still I hope that one time in the future, we will get a chance to see Michael doing the show again for a short run.  Nothing can ever be compared to the live experience, this counts for the concerts and even far far more it counts for this show.

I think someone said she did not know if she could have applauded after the songs.  I was concentrated throughout the show, but some songs were kind of showstoppers.  Michael’s voice was fabulous, sending shivers down my spine so often.  Personally I would have felt very strange if he sang his heart out like that and I sat there like deaf without any reaction.  The more quiet songs were different, there it felt rather disturbing.

As for GOT NO STRINGS I think we had a mixture of everything.  People who thought it was meant only funny, people who were just happy to have something to lighten the mood up a bit, and people who were completely unsecure how to react.

Kerstin

I may be wrong, but the impression I got was that the laughter was purely because it was a ‘funny’ song.  He did it with the ‘funny’ expressions and the people who were sitting next to me thought they were watching a concert.  Admittedly it was quite early in the show and also was in the first week before he put in the spoken part which pointed a little more to the fact that this was a  character telling a story.
Pat S

I am a huge fan of GOT  NO STRINGS.  He had just done that song saying good-by to his parents and the memory of childhood.  Then suddenly he turns into another person.  He has this huge theatrical smile – much too happy.  And he moves like a puppet with stiff legs and stiff arms.  He is trying to tell himself a story about being free, but the body language gives the show away.  He doesn’t really believe those strings have been cut at all.  The music is wonderful.  It is heavy and threatening and overpowering – not at all happy and light.  And it just bleeds into the next song.  But he is beginning to take control and to know, in part, where he wants to go.
Ronnie

I wondered, what does everyone make of the medley?

It reminds me of how in the old musical films there was often a song or medley of songs that was used to move the story along at a pace.

By looking at the lyrics used in this medley, you can see the character go from loving every second of what he’s doing packing up and heading off to live his dream in full, starting new relationships and traveling the country.  Making the statement that if he can do this he will be happy.  To becoming stressed by the hectic lifestyle he is leading, having relationships fail because of it and having to live with the pressure to deliver the goods all the time.  Until at the end of the medley you have the same piece being sung but that this time he’s questioning ‘why was I born…to make you happy.’  This leads him into the next part of the show struggling with his loneliness and the memories that haunt him again.

Sometimes it’s the lyric that gives you the clue, sometime it’s the way it’s sung.  Like the blue of BLUE SKIES could either be clear blue beautiful skies or blue sad skies and the way the character sings it, it seems like the latter to me.

Marie

I am really enjoying reading all the posts…makes me rethink first impressions on some of the songs…and then I go back to catch something like ‘piano’ in HOW CAN I LOSE YOU and SOLITUDE…still gets me teary.

Marie…felt same as you about Medley…did remind me of old musical films when songs moved story along.

What did you think of ‘spotlight’ effect train light…song A.T. & S.

Donna

Donna, explain…explain!  I am lost on this question (sotlight)!  And I want to respond.
I paid special attention to the medley and you’re right…the mood does darken as it goes along doesn’t it?  I also noticed after SHE TOUCHED ME/YOU’RE IN LOVE/YES MY HEART, how JC played that happy, light melody for a bit as a transition…cleverly implying time passing in blissful relationship…UNIT…REMIND ME, etc.

Katy

OK:  On THE ATTCIHISON, TOPEKA AND THE SANTA FE.  When singing it…Michael bends over…arms swinging…Meanwhile the Spotlight behind him is blinking…if that right word…anyway it’s moving in time to music…looks like the light from a train…a moving train…continues for a while…then the spotlight goes back to normal lighting.  Took a while to notice ‘train light effect’ but once I did…feel certain that’s the effect they were going for.

I had not picked up the ‘music box’ effect…now that I have…wondering how I missed that…Jason Carr is amazing…the more I watch/listen the more I become aware of the piano and the part it plays…or Jason makes it play in the story.

Donna

Yes, of course, you are quite right!  Looks like he is in the lights of a train; wonder if the posture he adopts goes with whatever show the song originally came from?
Katy

Donna, I agree about the lighting effect of the train during the medley.  I noticed it on the night as I was sitting up in the circle on that side of the room, but hadn’t quite realized what it was.  I think it comes out really well on video, it’s as if the train is hurling through a tunnel.  All the lighting is very subtle it took a few viewings of the video to notice it all and I have probably not noticed them all yet.
Marie

I have finished Act II.  I hope you won’t mind if I return to Act I again just briefly.  I couldn’t very well fast forward that bit and only watch Act II could I?  So obviously now I’ve got more to say that I didn’t say earlier on the first bit.

The first thing that caught my eye this time through was the idea of the significance of the costumes.  I don’t know why I didn’t catch this before, but it’s quite clever.  Out walks the actor on to his stage in a dress jacket and a wrinkly, untucked shirt.  The jacket is baggy and ill-fitting, just like success seems to be for him.  He may strive for it, but somehow it never quite fits as well as he wants it to.

In BLUE he says that ‘songs are like tattoos…they anchor me or let me sail away’.  To me this is almost the essence of the entire show:  songs have imprinted on his mind the memories that he can’t escape.  Through association with song, those memories can’t escape from his mind.  He elaborates further on this in PADAM PADAM where he again draws a direct parallel between life and a song (the voice of the act you regret…it knows that you wrote the refrain) he is talking about his life as if it were one of those melodies that gets stuck in your head and keeps going round and round and won’t leave.  And as he gets more angry towards the end of the song and he talks about it ‘laughing at all of your pain’ a spotlight appears in front of him, directly illuminating his face instead of coming as usual from above.  It might be a stretch but the look on his face and the effect of the light almost burning off it makes it seem like the song of his soul is putting him through Hell.  Kinda creepy, but very effective.

At the end of SONS OF when he sings ‘so long ago, long, long ago’ and brings himself back into the memory of his father leaving him.  He physically steps directly into the spotlight.  It’s like he’s plunged himself straight into the memory.  Towards the end, he turns his head to the side and begins MAN THAT GOT AWAY – he’s watching his father leave all over again and as he sings the words ‘man that got away’ he steps outside of the spotlight.  The spotlight is meant to be his father (or the memory of his father) and it fades as he says, ‘where’s he gone to?’  But what’s most interesting about this is that one of the phrases that immediately follows the disappearance of the spotlight is ‘the road gets lonelier’.  No matter how much he may wish to deny it, his father abandoning him left him feeling terribly alone.

Marie, I remember us discussing IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL and SAY A LITTLE PRAYER and how neither of us could decide whether it was meant to be from the performer’s perspective or from the father’s.  I don’t know if you guys have talked any more about that since I’ve read this thread, but here’s some new thoughts.  I’m now more inclined to believe that it is the actor remembering how his father used to talk to his mother, all the words he used to say to her. I think that LITLE PAL was sung from the perspective of the actor while looking into his own childhood eyes as his father spoke to him and so this song can be interpreted along those same lines.  SAY A LITTLE PRAYER gets a bit angry at the end, especially during the ‘darling believe me for me there is no one but you’ part.  The actor is recalling with disgust the promises his father once made to his mother, promises that were shattered with the father’s departure.  That could be why the end of that song is so desperately angry.

One thing that just breaks my heart every time I watch this part is the unblinking clear-blue stare of Michael’s eyes at the end of MOTHER.  It’s an unbelieving stare, one that says that he never thought he’d be left behind like this, but it’s also a look that’s filled with love that somehow still sees beyond that.

And one final thought on NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS  - I think in this song, the performer is telling the audience the reason why he went into theatre: for the thrills, for the unrivaled ups (and downs!) and to prove himself.  “They told you you’d not go far, but there’s your billing up there in lights” – he wants to prove that despite all the rocks that life has thrown at him thus far, he can still be something.

Rebecca

It’s funny how everyone’s varying interpretations ALL make sense.  I can buy all of ‘em!

Katy

Act II
And here comes that “show business” we were promised at the end of Act I.  The medley is the performer at the very height of his musical career – EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES for him with one success after another.  He’s happy in his distraction.  The music is immediately much more happy and light-hearted, in complete contrast with the mood of the first act (at least for the moment).

(costume change – his success and his stage persona/act are really just a cover-up for the real man that lies underneath, just as the fancy tux jacket and bowtie are thrown overtop the wrinkled shirt and jeans)

LET ME SING A HAPPY SONG says the performer, and if I can make you smile, I’ve done my job and made myself happy too.   I want to touch you and move you through my songs, he says, a goal that is exactly what the Donmar show itself wanted to do.  Singing and performing allows the actor to ‘shoo the blues away’ for awhile – while he is on stage, he can forget about reality and about the mess that is his life and past disappointments.  BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY, he’s determined to get some ‘life back into my life’, to make up for all that he was deprived of earlier on.  “I’ve had enough of just passing by life”, he sings, for on stage he feels like he’s finally able to take control of his life.  This makes him believe he can reach for the stars and propel himself all the way to Broadway; he’s willing to leave behind whatever he has left just to be somebody.  And so, ‘all aboard’ and he begins his tour of the States, all the way across the country he goes from San Francisco to St Louis to the Carolinas (represented quite cleverly by the burning red lights – very cool).  With that nifty flashing spotlight and the constant hammering of the train rhythm in the piano, he’s off moving from city to city and what we see and hear are his performances, etc whilst he’s there.  I love the vaudeville feeling and the way he kneels and really gets into it with the single spotlight in TOOT TOOT TOOTSIE and the way he wanders back and forth in MEET ME IN ST LOUIS.  He’s so good at that!  And why in the world won’t he record pieces from those older musicals?  He’d be perfect!!!  BUT…I digress…

Towards the end of the medley, he also brings in some hints of the relationships he had while he was on the road, love that he found, then left behind as he moved on.  In the end, the whole thing is about him trying to make people happy ‘why was I born?  To make you happy’.  His entire musical career has been him trying to find a purpose in his life – is that it?  Has he found it here?
But all good things come to an end and he realizes that it was only a NICE DREAM.  While he was on stage ‘they loved me like I was a brother, they protect me, listen to me’.  Finally he feels as if he’s being accepted by someone, that people appreciate him for who he really is when he’s up on stage.  But when the show is over, all of that is gone.  The confidence is gone, the company is gone, the lights, the energy, everything, and he is left alone.  Being up on stage is only a dream – it’s got nothing to do with reality.  “If you think you really belong” he says…but he doesn’t.  That’s only the illusion he gets while performing.  Now that he’s off the stage, he’s got no one; he sits in his SOLITUDE and reflects on what was and what really is – stage life isn’t real life, no matter how much he might want it to be.

In SOLITUDE is another costume change – he removes his jacket and is left only in the white shirt.  This is the performer being completely alone and vulnerable when he’s off stage – he’s shed that outside façade behind which he can hide when he’s singing and when that’s gone he’s got nothing to protect him.  When he’s alone after his show is over, all he has left to do is sit and let those memories of triumph and bliss ‘haunt’ and taunt’ him and make him sad.  ‘Dear Lord above, send back my love’ he pleads, for he wants to feel again what he felt up on stage, but the repetition at the end of ‘nice dream’ only reaffirms that a dream is all that feeling can ever really be.

Love then begins to bring him out of his shell of solitude.  It serves as something new to distract him. ‘She’s real and world is alive and shinning’.  Here finally is something good in his life, something that IS real.  He’s been brought out of his misery and he can’t believe what an effect love can have on him.  He didn’t expect it could be like that, so all-consuming, so surprising, and so wonderful.  His facial expression in YOUR JUST IN LOVE are such a hoot – I love the disgruntled face, the wrinkled nose, the shifting eyes.  It’s as if he’s suspicious of love and the power that it’s exerting over him.  If he listens to his heart ‘my heart’s trying to tell me something…’, he can see how giddy love is making him and how happy he can be because of it. (That giggle that escapes from Michael when he finishes and everyone is clapping is just adorable – he can’t help himself!)

But regardless of what his heart is trying to tell him, the actor is still suspicious of love and how much it could hurt him. ‘Remind me not to find you so attractive, remind me not to gaze at you again.’  Life’s experiences won’t allow him to give himself entirely into any relationship.  He can’t help but keep his love at a distance ‘remind me to count to ten’ because he doesn’t want to be hurt again like he was before by his parents.  ‘I have a will of steel my friend and when it’s about to bend remind me not to mention that I love you.”  He just can’t allow himself to love no matter how much he may want to.  He wishes he could forget her, but somehow he ‘can’t leave the thought of her behind’ try as he might.  She’s one thing he’ll regret…because he knows she’ll eventually abandon him, just as everyone else has.

And his love does leave him, just as he feared she would.  ‘What now my love’ he wails in despair ‘now that you’ve left me?’  This goes back to Act I in IS THAT ALL THERE IS when he told that little story about how he fell ‘head over heels in love’ and how when his love went away, he felt as if he would die.  But he didn’t, he says, even though he now ‘walks the night stripped of his heart and his soul’ without his love.  She’s taken all that with her when she left, turning his dreams to ashes and shattering that final shred of ability to love and trust.  ‘Here come the stars tumbling around me’ – those same stars that began to twinkle in his eyes when he first fell in love are now shattered to pieces, just like his love and his confidence in the world ‘What now my love, now there is nothing’.  Again, his facial expressions in this piece, the raw pain and sheer despair in his eyes are just incredible.  It makes my heart ache just watching him suffer like that.

‘How can I lose you?  We were together and now we are through.  Why am I losing you?  No one should always lose – can’t I find some kind of peace?” Everyone he has ever loved has left him alone and he finally begins to see that that’s all his own fault.  ‘I have a terrible weakness inside, I have a blind spot 40 miles wide – that’s how I lost you.’  He pushed love away and hasn’t allowed himself to feel it, and that’s why he’s lost it again.  ‘What did I say?  How was I bad?  How can you leave me, you’re all that I know?’  In losing his one love, he’s reliving that loss he felt with his parents and he’s like a little boy that sees he’s done something wrong, yet can’t figure out just what it was.

LIFE ON MARS is his reflection of his life falling to pieces around him.  His disappointment in love is just ‘a god-awful small affair’ to the rest of the world – no one else cares how he feels, and so he’s all alone again, walking through his sunken dream in solitude.  Life is crazy and nothing makes sense to him anymore.  It’s all like one big ‘freaky show’ and if there is indeed life on Mars, this must be pretty darned close to it because it just doesn’t get any weirder and more incomprehensible than this.

The Bach prelude becomes a period of inner reflection for the performer.  Notice that it is a prelude – a beginning, an introduction to something new that continues on ‘Over my head, I hear music everywhere.  There must be a God somewhere.’  Hope is beginning to return, however slowly and gradually.  There must be a reason to go on no matter how difficult and despairing things may seem.  This brings him around to making some sort of spiritual connection.  He questions God about heaven, about what comes after (in the same way he questions Him though not as directly, all through his life’s journey) and about what heaven’s like when we die.  ‘Will I want?’ he wonders, ‘Will I wish for all the things I should have done?’  Will I have regrets about my life when I get to heaven he wants to know.  And more importantly will my mother be there waiting for me with open arms?  ‘Only heaven knows how glory goes’ he realizes and if that’s true could heaven have determined my life and the way it’s turned out?

ALONE TOGETHER is a mark of how far the performer has come on his journey.  Although he’s still alone, he has come to realize that there are others in the same position as him, that everyone is alone sometimes and that as long as that is true no one is really ever truly alone because they are all alone together.  This song could also be taken on the more spiritual level of the previous one, meaning that he would be singing about being alone, but together because God is always with him.
‘This is what it is to be filled, this is what it is to be lost, this is what it is to be scared” he says, because this is what it is to live.  And now I know that I’m not alone in any of it – I’m not alone in feeling scared sometimes, ‘I’m not the only one who is afraid of a world…’  And AFTER THE BALL IS OVER after the journey has been taken ‘many a fear has vanished’ because we can now all know for sure that we’re alone together through it all.  In this last song, Michael searches the faces of the audience intently and very obviously.  It’s like he was trying to say to everyone that we’ve made this journey together and that he hopes that our fears about life and all its trials and disappointments have been softened, if only a little, by the knowledge that none of us are ever alone in them (which also says a great deal about how he viewed the performance – he took a chance, may have been apprehensive about it, but he was in it alone, together with the audience to support him.

Rebecca

You have a beautiful way with words…made me…as I read…remember all the songs…situations…etc…as you described them…and I was touched…at times I was nodding, yes…that’s what I saw and times feeling teary…emotional…but then every time I watch his brilliant show I at times feel like a smile at times teary.  I really like your take on AFTER THE BALL…and yet Michael took a chance…But I am so grateful that he did…The entire show is incredible!!!  Michael and Jason Carr are amazing.
Donna

Oh, that was excellent reading Rebecca!  Made my cheeks hurt, smiling, and yeah, Donna, like you I was nodding and developing throat lumps…

Rebecca, I too, adore the way he has captured the vaudeville sound in the incredible medley…that he was able to not only memorize the songs, but also absorb and reproduce perfectly the style and essence of them and to switch moods and expressions so quickly…sometimes he would sing only four or five words from a particular song, several songs in a row, and his tone, expression, and body language would reflect the differing emotions of each one in the blink of an eye…and he learned all this in, what, only a couple of weeks?????  GEEZ!!

I know there are people out there who are not Michael fans, but I don’t see how ANYONE who has any sort of appreciation for music and great singing could fail to see the overwhelming talent displayed in just this one part of that fantastic show!

Katy
Rebecca, Great to read your thoughts on Act II.  I mentioned the dinner jacket in my original review.  I think it was definitely there for a reason.  To show the character had obtained some of the success he was looking for.  He’s got this new confidence and self esteem, but the fact that he is still wearing the jeans show that underneath all the bravado he is still the same person with the same insecurities.  (of course the jeans could just as easily still be there to make the later costume change a lot simpler)
Marie

Having read all the posts on this topic, all I really want to say is that I saw the show at the Donmar and thought it was the best thing Michael has ever done.  I was just so different and showed what a good actor Michael can be.
Pauline H.

Page 2 of 4

1 / 2 / 3 / 4

Click to go back to the top of the page
 

Site Established December 2001, by Barbara Uram and Deborah Norris