"Can you feel the lo-o-o-o-ve tonight?" Michael Ball asks in the song of the same name. One thing's for sure: we can definitely feel the full impact of his vibrato. And maybe that's what makes him one of Britain's most popular musical-theatre singers. Packed with ballads, Centre Stage
features songs pulled mostly from contemporary blockbusters such as Aida
, Les Miserables
, Blood Brothers
. Ball isnt the best Sondheim interpreter (eg: "Not While I'm Around"), but his relatively low-key take on ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All" is surprisingly effective.
Like Linda Eder and Sarah Brightman, he's a crossover artist, equally at ease in the West End, on Broadway and in Las Vegas. "Seasons of Love" is the best example of this strategy. The synth-heavy arrangements get close to the cheese zone at times, but Ball's power-pipes mostly manage to overcome them. The album's centerpiece is the delirious title song from Phantom of the Opera, a duet with Lesley Garrett; it comes across like old-school Queen trying its damnedest to write a Broadway hit. It's so over the top, so flamboyantly bombastic, that only a terminal snob wouldn't love it. Or at least crack a smile. --Elisabeth Vincentelli