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 Misérables, 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 Misrables 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 babyfaced 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.
Born Michael Ashley Ball on June 27, 1962, near Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Education: Graduated from Guildford School of Acting, England, 1984.
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.
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.
Addresses: Management—Gavin Barker Associates, Ltd., 2d Wimpole St., London WIM 7AA, England. Website—Michael Ball Official Website: http://www.michaelball.co.uk
Soon afterward he was back onstage in the original London cast of Stephen Sondheim’s Passion, a twocharacter 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.
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).
"Ball, Michael." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ball-michael
"Ball, Michael." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ball-michael
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"Ball, Michael." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ball-michael
"Ball, Michael." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ball-michael
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Addresses: Home—Marina del Rey, CA.
Amateur motorbike racer, actor, employee of a merchandising company, and designer of motorcycle and motorbike clothing; founded Rock & Republic, 2002.
Michael Ball serves as the primary designer and chief executive officer of Rock & Republic, the premium denim label he founded in 2002. Ball and his Los Angeles-based company entered the casual-apparel market at an opportune moment, and his well-fitting jeans quickly gained a following among Hollywood starlets and a Southern-California trendsetting crowd despite their $160-and-up price tag. Still a privately held company, Rock & Republic headed into an ambitious expansion at the five-year mark that would include the first freestanding Rock & Republic stores, along with a women's footwear line and other products. "We have a 15-year plan to literally dominate our market," Ball asserted to Los Angeles Daily News Record journalist David Lipke.
There are conflicting dates reported by the media as to Ball's birth date. Most sources claim it to be 1968, but People consistently cites it as four years earlier than that. Details about his early life are also somewhat sketchy: He has said that his father was a stage actor who toured in the hit hippie musical Hair, and that his parents separated when he was still quite young. He and his sister grew up in the Los Angeles area with their mother, where he took classes at the University of California's Los Angeles campus but never earned a degree.
Ball was an actor and an amateur motorbike racer before taking a job with a merchandising company. On the side, he designed motorcycle and motorbike clothing. One day, his girlfriend came home "wearing a pair of jeans that looked like crap, frankly," Ball told People writer Charlotte Triggs. "So I said, 'Let me make you a pair.'" She liked the finished version, as did a friend of his, who was a distributor in Japan and asked Ball if he could make 300 pairs to sell overseas. With that, Rock & Republic was born in 2002, with Ball taking on a managing partner, Andrea Bernholtz, to run the financial side of the business.
Ball devoted his energies to designing a line of premium denim for women. His first collection featured different styles named after rock icons, and entered the market at the top price point for jeans, from $160 to $210, but quickly developed a cult fol-lowing for their terrific fit. The line was sold in 500 stores by the end of the first year, and a men's Rock & Republic line debuted in the spring of 2004. Ball's company became known for the runway shows it staged during the twice-yearly Los Angeles Fashion Week presentation. Though from a manufacturing standpoint denim was one of the easiest items of apparel to design and sell—there is little variation on the core design, with fabric, stitching, pocket placement, and other details serving to differentiate one label from the other—Ball told one reporter that launching his company had not been easy. "It's a whole big denim mafia," he explained to April Y. Pennington in Entrepreneur. "Even the little companies are backed by big companies."
Ball's competitors in the premium denim market included 7 For All Mankind, True Religion, and Citizens of Humanity, but most of them had entered into partnerships with larger apparel manufacturers. Rock & Republic, by contrast, remained a privately held company, and by 2006 had a distribution network that was putting its apparel in 2,000 stores. There were plans for the first freestanding stores to open in New York City's trendy Meatpacking District in 2007, following one in London's Notting Hill neighborhood. Ball's designs have consistently done well in London, thanks in part to an arrangement with former Spice Girl Victoria "Posh" Beckham, a major celebrity in Britain and the wife of Britain's highest-paid athlete, soccer star David Beckham. A separate line, sporting the label "Victoria Beckham for Rock & Republic," enjoyed steady sales for two years, but the partnership deal ended in a lawsuit in 2006.
Because Rock & Republic is a privately held company, its financial data is not required to be made public, but industry analysts believe that Ball's label enjoyed a 270 percent jump in sales between 2005 and 2006, and was probably a $350 million business by 2007. Ball had plans for an initial public offering of stock in 2009, once the complete line of apparel and accessories—which were to include footwear, eyewear, and the men's suits and ties already sold under his Tailor Made label—was fully operational. He even told the press about plans for boutique Rock & Republic hotels and possibly even an airline. "There's so much product out there, you have to turn yourself into a brand," he told Lipke in the Daily News Record. "If you don't stand out, go home. Buyers are losing interest in all the bit players: They want consistency, customer loyalty, and partnerships with brands they can trust."
Ball lives in Marina del Rey, California, and is single. In addition to the entanglement with Beckham over profits she claimed were owed to her, Ball's company—or Ball himself—has been named in two other lawsuits: In 2007, a Mexican model who once dated him, and her photographer boy-friend, alleged that Ball had tried to extort money out of them and blackmail them with scintillating private photos; the suit also claimed that Ball had arranged a sham marriage for the model that allowed her to extend her stay in the United States indefinitely.
That same year, the New York Times featured Ball and his company in a story about the scores of trademark infringement lawsuits that lawyers for Levi Strauss & Co. file regularly, which the apparel-industry analysts quoted in the article hinted was a case of sour grapes for being trounced so brutally by brash upstart labels in the denim market that Levi's had long dominated. As journalists Michael Barbaro and Julie Creswell of the New York Times explained, Ball and his Rock & Republic "designers intentionally placed a cloth label on the right hand side of a back pocket, not the left, which would violate a Levi's trademark. Levi's sued anyway, arguing its trademarks forbid placing such a label on a vertical seam of a back-pocket." The issue, like most of the Levi's trademark suits, was settled out of court, though Ball told Barbaro and Creswell that the pocket detail "was not remotely close to Levi's," but that he had agreed to settle partly because "I will get bored with that design soon anyway."
Business Week, January 22, 2007.
Daily News Record (Los Angeles, CA), May 1, 2006, p. 3.
Entrepreneur, May 2004, p. 180.
New York Post, January 27, 2007, p. 9.
New York Times, January 29, 2007.
People, June 27, 2005, p. 114; February 19, 2007, p. 125.
Sunday Mirror (London, England), December 10, 2006, p. 7.
Vegas, November 2003.
"Ball, Michael." Newsmakers 2007 Cumulation. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/journals/culture-magazines/ball-michael
"Ball, Michael." Newsmakers 2007 Cumulation. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/journals/culture-magazines/ball-michael
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Ball, Michael, English composer; b. Manchester, Nov. 10, 1946. He began composing at an early age, writing a children’s opera when he was 11. In 1964 he entered the Royal Coll. of Music in London, where he studied with Howells, Searle, and Lambert, and was awarded all of its major composition prizes. He then completed his training with Donatoni in Siena (summers, 1972–73), where he also attended the master classes of Berio and Ligeti.
DRAMATIC: Opera: The Belly Bag (1992). ORCH.: Resurrection Symphonies (1982; Manchester, May 23, 1984); Frontier! for Brass Band (1984); Omaggio for Wind Band (1986); Concerto for Organ, Brass, Percussion, and Strings (1987); Danses vitales: Danses macabres (1987); Farnesong for Chamber Orch. (1990); Midsummer Music for Brass Band (1991); Chaucer’s Tunes for Wind Band (1993); Concerto for Saxophone and Wind Band (1994). CHAMBER: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn for Recorder and Tape (1983); Music for an Island for 2 Guitars (1989); Serenade for Seikilos for Saxophone Quartet (1991). piano.Miriam’s Music (1991). VOCAL: Sainte Marye Virgine, motet for Chorus (1977–79); A Hymn to God My God for 16 Solo Voices (1983–84); Pageant for Chorus, Winds, and Brass (1984–85); Lindisfarne Fragments, song cycle for Baritone and Piano (1988); The Pentecost Castle for Chorus (1988); Nocturnes for Chorus, 2 Pianos, and 2 Percussion (1990).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
"Ball, Michael." Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ball-michael-0
"Ball, Michael." Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ball-michael-0