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Michael Ball gives us the inside story on BBC1's Musicals: The Greatest Show

Michael Ball on stage for BBC1's Musicals: The Greatest Show.
Michael Ball on BBC1's Musicals: The Greatest Show. (Image credit: BBC/Guy Levy)

Practice your vocal warm-ups, get your glad rags on and enjoy a night out in London’s West End — without leaving your living room. This Sunday [February 7] BBC1 invites viewers to tune in, singalong, and celebrate the joys of musical theatre in Musicals: The Greatest Show. We caught up with musical maestro, Michael Ball — who’s starred in Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Hairspray — for inside info on this special show...

Musicals: The Greatest Show is presented by Sheridan Smith

Musicals: The Greatest Show has a BBC Radio 2 connection

Musicals: The Greatest Show is the TV climax of Radio 2 Celebrates Musicals, a three-day event showcasing songs from stage and screen that ran from Friday January 29 to Sunday January 31.

Hosted by actor Sheridan Smith — who has tread the London West End boards herself in smash-hits including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Legally Blonde — the 75-minute spectacular, Musicals: The Greatest Show airs Sunday February 7 at 7.40pm on BBC1. 

"I’ve known Sheridan Smith for a while and am a huge admirer," says Michael. "She’s an extraordinary talent. We’ve been in concerts together, but never actually sung together so we need to put that right!"

Big names on the bill

Amanda Holden takes centre stage in BBC1's Musicals: The Greatest Show.

Amanda Holden takes centre stage in BBC1's Musicals: The Greatest Show. (Image credit: BBC/Guy Levy)

The star-spangled bill features special performances from Sheridan Smith, Amanda Holden, Michael Ball, and Cats star Nicole Scherzinger joins in the fun via video. (See below for detailed billing list)

"Amanda, I’ve known forever and a day. She’s properly funny!" reveals Michael. "She’s also earned her place on the musical theatre stage with performances in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Shrek."

Musicals: The Greatest Show was filmed in a secure environment

Musicals The Greatest Show was filmed adhering strictly to current COVID-19 safety protocols when it was recorded at the world-famous London Palladium.

"It was all in and out, like a conveyor belt, because we had to do it quickly and safely. But there was an exciting atmosphere. Everyone was thrilled to be there but we couldn’t overlap too much," explains Michael, who adds: "I was happy I got to have a chat with Sheridan. 

"Walking on the stage and joining the socially distanced orchestra, with the ensemble singers doing backing vocals in the auditorium… It was a wonderful feeling singing right in the centre of that amazing sound for the first time in ages. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve missed it."

Ensemble singers socially distance during filming for Musicals: The Greatest Show.

Ensemble singers socially distance during filming for Musicals: The Greatest Show. (Image credit: BBC/Guy Levy)

Micheal reprises his role of Edna Turnblad from Hairspray

"I sing You Can’t Stop the Beat from Hairspray. I call it, ‘You Can’t Stop to Breathe’, because it’s full on!" laughs Michael. "Not having done a whole lot of exercise throughout this lockdown, I realised how unfit I am — and I wasn’t even doing the full dances or had the heels on!"

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There’s something for every musical lover

"Because there are so many kinds of musicals, you get glitz, glamour and fun, but also something a little more heartrending and soul searching," says Michael. 

"Expect classic songs everyone knows and loves, and also new things people may not have seen yet from shows like Hamilton and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, plus a brand-new song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s upcoming Cinderella." 

Musicals: The Greatest Show aims to lift spirits

"There’s nothing like a musical! It’s such an important art form, and tailor-made for how we’re feeling at the moment – isolated, lonely and in need of stimuli. 

"Musicals take us out of our own lives for a couple of hours and that’s a really healthy thing. There’s also a sense of community, both for the people on stage and the audience. It happens live in front of you and will never happen exactly like this ever again."

Musicals take us out of our own lives for a couple of hours

Michael Ball

Missing a good day out? You’re not alone…

Layton Williams stars in BBC1's Musicals: The Greatest Show

Layton Williams stars in BBC1's Musicals: The Greatest Show. (Image credit: BBC/Guy Levy)

"There’s an appetite from the audience to come back to the theatre. I think even more so than before. You don’t realise how much you miss something until it’s not there anymore," says Michael about recent conversations with musical theatre fans. 

"British musical theatre is world class, but it’s sort of been forgotten. If you walk around the West End of London, it’s a ghost town. All the hotels, restaurants and shops that rely on people taking in a show, that’s gone for them. And it’s even more bleak regionally. It’s awful. 

"Acting for Others is great – it combines theatre charities to help people and their families who are having such a hard time."

Michael is making plans for Hairspray

"Last year we did one day of rehearsal for Hairspray and then went into lockdown.

"It’s scheduled to reopen in April [at the London Coliseum] but that’s looking less likely," confides Michael. "We had a big Zoom call — all the cast and producers — and the determination is: ‘We’re going to do it as soon as we can!’ 

"I think Hairspray will happen. It might happen a bit later but it will definitely happen!"

Yes, Michael Ball does have a favourite musical!

"Les Miserables is an extraordinary work, it really is. But, for sheer joy, I love Hairspray.

"It’s the characters, the clothes, the moving and funny story, and the important social message that’s dressed up in this wonderful confectionary. 

"When my mum came to see it, she said it was like watching gran on stage and, actually, I based a lot of the character on her. I even smell like her. Every character I play has to have their own smell and she smells of Madame Rochas!"

Every character I play has to have their own smell

Michael Ball exclusive!

Musicals: The Greatest Show is available on catch-up

BBC1 Musicals: The Greatest Show will be available to watch for up to a year on BBC iPlayer.

Other stars and highlights from BBC1’s Musicals: The Greatest Show

Amanda Holden and Sheridan Smith duet.

Amanda Holden and Sheridan Smith duet. (Image credit: BBC/Guy Levy)
  • Host Sheridan teams up with BGT judge Amanda Holden for a rendition of the iconic song I Know Him So Well from Chess. Fact fans: It was originally performed by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson, reached No.1 in 1985 and remains the best-selling song by a female duo.
  • Musical fans awaiting Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new show Cinderella are in for a treat with an exclusive first performance by star Ivano Turco of Only You, Lonely You.
  • Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger will be hitting the high notes as she performs Never Enough from The Greatest Showman, recorded in LA.
  • Acclaimed West End and Broadway actor Ramin Karimloo (Holby City’s Kian Madani) gives a heartstopping performance of The Music of the Night from The Phantom of the Opera.
  • In a musical coup, the queen of musicals, Elaine Paige, will be interviewed by Broadway favourite (and the voice of Frozen’s Elsa) Idina Menzel.
  • Aisha Jawando (The Tina Turner Musical), Nicole Raquel Dennis (Dreamgirls), and cast members from Six the Musical, Mamma Mia, and Dear Evan Hansen all turn up to perform the nation’s favourite show tunes!
  • For the grand finale viewers, who’ve submitted their own renditions, sing Wicked’s Defying Gravity with Kerry Ellis and Any Dream Will Do from Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat with Jac Yarrow