MICHAEL BALL, Abravanel Hall, Friday and Saturday.

Michael Ball, one of Britain's leading musical theater stars, has toured Europe, Australia and other parts of the world. But, although he has appeared on Broadway, he is not as well-known in this country. "So I'm a little nervous," he told the Salt Lake audience of his first-ever U.S. concert. Not to worry.

That audience was introduced to a singer of striking ability and graceful stage presence; a man of humor and charm who did not seem to take himself too seriously; a man who sang songs not just that he knew but that he clearly cared about.

Ball, on the other hand, met an audience that embraced him from the first note. The power and emotion of his songs brought the crowd to its feet time after time; even after three encores no one wanted to say goodbye.

As might be expected, the show was filled with show tunes: "Can You Feel The Love Tonight," "Don't Rain On My Parade," "The Boy From Nowhere." There were songs from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Stephen Sondheim; songs from "Evita" and "Les Miserables" and "Sweeney Todd."

But there were some country songs, too: Garth Brooks' "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and the poignant "Walking In Memphis"; and one of his own compositions, a tender tribute to his "other half," his wife, Cathy.

Ball was joined by Lehi singer Catherine Stambaugh for a dramatic medley from "Phantom of the Opera." And a local gospel choir calling itself the Ball-ettes added its touch to some rousing gospel anthems, including "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord."

He sang "Any Dream Will Do" for his "good friend Donny, who received some bad news this week." And a sweet lullaby, "Hush-A-Bye Mountain," from "Chitty, Chitty Bang, Bang," his most recent theatrical production. And then he brought the house down with a medley of songs from the Blues Brothers.

Ball's concerts, underwritten by a variety of corporate sponsors, were a benefit for the Skokos Foundation for the Performing Arts, which brings music arts to handicapped and underprivileged children.

"I came here first because I heard Salt Lake had the nicest people," he told the audience. One can only hope it's the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship.

E-mail: carma@desnews.com