Blue sky, cheeping birds, the warm breeze rustling the green leaves of the beautiful trees, a flock of geese low-flying in formation above the picturesque and intimate setting of Kelvingrove Bandstand. The ideal night, and the ideal setting for a concert from one of Britain’s best-loved singers. After a few (highly successful) years in partnership with musical theatre treasure Michael Ball, Alfie Boe is back on his own, and arguably at his best.
Boe looks happy, he looks comfortable and totally at ease, sharing anecdotes about his life since bursting to prominence, he banters and cracks jokes, the crowd too are revelling in this perfect early summer evening, and the result is arguably the best concert Boe has ever delivered. There’s no interval, Boe arrives, bag-piped on to the stage at 8pm precisely and so lost in the moment is he, that the set runs 50 minutes over and skirts close to the 10.30pm curfew, ending (lit by the light of a few thousand mobile phones) in Snow Patrol’s Run. The set itself is hugely eclectic but surprisingly, absolutely perfect. There’s a mix of Italian classics, musical theatre, country, jazz and blues, pop standards and an absolutely barn-storming set of covers of The Who’s classic rock songs.
The audience are free to wander to the front, dance in the aisles, the sight lines are excellent, the sound quality sublime, the relaxed atmosphere a joy to be part of. It really doesn’t get any better than this. Simple excellent.
The master of musical theatre Michael Ball and Britain’s best-loved tenor Alfie Boe join forces on a UK tour to promote their recently released album Together.
The whole evening rattles along amiably and the pair has an easy charm that transmits well to the audience. The programme is rich and varied: from an Elvis medley, a James Bond segment to a selection from Les Mis, a show that both have a history with – Ball as the first Marius and Boe as a critically lauded Jean Valjean on both Broadway and the West End. However, surprisingly, it is a Rat Pack segment that blends these two contrasting voices to best effect.
The pair have ample opportunity to showcase their considerable vocal skills; Boe has the power and drive and Ball the mellow honeyed tones. For Boe, the highlight is undoubtedly his rendition of The Who’s Love Rain on Me, a powerhouse performance that has the audience on its feet at its conclusion, for Ball it’s his personal anthem Love Changes Everything.
This is a rare opportunity to see two singing giants together on one stage and the result is a hugely entertaining evening – a rare treat, and a class act from start to end.
Alfie Boe’s plain speaking 2012 biography Alfie: My Story charts in heart-felt detail Boe’s rather colourful and frustrating relationship with the classical music world, and in many ways this Storyteller Tour illustrates how much Boe wishes to distance himself from his operatic roots.
It was an Alfie acting out his rock star fantasies: hair cropped short and wardrobe updated, bounding across the stage, that greeted the audience in this vast, cavernous auditorium. With songs ranging from rock classics like the Rolling Stones Angie and Elvis’ classic If I Can Dream; pop standards Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and Bridge Over Troubled Water; to the gospel Rank Strangers and Poor Wayfaring Stranger, this was a vastly different experience to last year’s sell-out musical theatre based Bring Him Home Tour.
I am a huge fan of not only Boe’s sublime voice, but of the man himself who appears genuinely thankful for the place he has in the public’s affections and this was a performance both faultless vocally and musically. Personally I enjoyed the evening immensely and it is laudable for an artist to push the boundaries to discover what their voice can achieve and what they can accomplish as a performer, however, there were many around me who did not agree.
The Glasgow audience has a well deserved reputation as the most vocal and demonstrative in the UK and a trip 40 miles east to our capital city perfectly illustrates the difference, however Boe appeared at times genuinely disappointed in the reactions of this mixed age audience, and ill at ease in his banter. His desire to give the event a more “rock” feel was not well received by the very oldest members of the audience who had doubtless bought tickets on the strength of Boe’s operatic and musical theatre output: there were a few walk-outs; some comments of “stick to what you’re good at” and those who remained stoney-faced throughout the two hour show.
Some blame must be laid at the song choice and the programming. I believe Boe’s aim was to present songs that had personal meaning to him but the unevenness of the scheduling of them in the evening led to a lack of continuity and cohesion. Boe’s appeals to get up and dance were taken up by many (mostly women upwards of 50) however he then proceeded to sing Everybody’s Talkin’ a song not noted for its danceability. If Boe truly wanted people up on their feet there’s a century of popular songs to choose from and when you get them up you need to keep them up by choosing songs that people can truly get involved with, not a country-style ballad.
Blame must also go to the venue choice. This is a beautiful auditorium inside and out with state of the art acoustics, it is also equipped with spacious, comfortable, almost armchair like seating none of which contributes to getting an audience on its feet or encouraging the atmosphere of a rock concert. It also suffers due to the fact that in order to provide the best acoustic experience from the stage the sound proofing in the auditorium deadens any audience noise so reactions seem muted.
The moments of the evening that were best received were an interlude of three Neopolitan songs from the roots of Boe’s career and the always show-stopping Bring Him Home, the audience surging to its feet as the last note rang out, Boe commented on the fact that he knew that was what people had come for and we could all go home now – and my feeling is that the comment was made only half in jest.
Boe is a supremely talented artist, with a voice few could better, and I personally enjoyed myself greatly, appreciating the musical tour through the 20th Century with some stops in the classical world, however a little more thought for the programming of the evening may have resulted in the evening Boe envisaged. I look forward to what comes next.
On the morning before coming home from one of my previous trips to London I decided that instead of wandering aimlessly around even more shops, I’d indulge in another “cultural” experience. This time it was a backstage tour of The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. The phenomenally well informed and engaging guide started with some history of the building and its architecture followed by a tour of the glorious auditorium, most recently seen in the BBCs coverage of this year’s Olivier Awards.
By sheer chance there was a rehearsal for Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette on set beginning behind us and as we left, the opera buffs were getting excited as the calls to stage had gone out for opera super dooper star and all round nice guy Alfie Boe – they had to be forcibly removed before he appeared.
At the time of the trip, other than being aware of his name and the stir he was creating in the opera world, I didn’t really know anything about Alfie Boe. (I have subsequently seen him in the Les Miserables 25th anniversary concert, the full production of Les Mis at the Queen’s Theatre and in concert, as well as the countless appearances he has made on TV). He was apparently discovered singing on the shop floor of the TVR car factory in Blackpool, went to The D’Oyly Carte and then trained at the Royal College of Music.
The tour then took us backstage to the design departments to see the process of taking an opera from page to stage. The 3D models of the sets were just magical, like those wonderful, atmospheric toy theatres much beloved by the Victorians. As we passed backstage there were racks upon racks of hampers full of the most glorious, highly detailed and extravagant costumes – and all completely hand made. How some of the dancers manage to move under the weight is amazing. It was the kind of sequin filled dressing up fantasy of ever little (and this big) girl fulfilled.
The highlight of the tour was the visit to the ballet studio where most of the principal dancers were being put through their punishing paces. The most eye-opening thing I learned was that dancers start their day at 10.30 am and dance through until 5.30pm on a performance day and 6.00pm on a non-performance day and on performance day the curtain will fall at 10.30 – 10.40pm. I think they should tell this to all those little girls who dream of life as a ballerina.
Alina Cojocaru and Edward Watson
The tour took over 2 hours and at the time the admission was £10 – a fantastic glimpse into how the magic on stage is created with blood, sweat, tears and talent by a massive army of dedicated people.
Last night’s DVD was the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary concert with a cast, orchestra and choir of 500.
Alfie Boe (above) is Jean Valjean and showed remarkable control of his operatic tenor, delivering a full-throttle vocal intensity only when absolutely necessary in the role. His inspirational rendition of “Bring Him Home” stopped the show. Boe appeared sincerely moved by the enthusiastic standing ovation of the over 18,000 in attendance at the O2 arena. It was completely deserved.
Norm Lewis who plays Javert, is a Broadway veteran and here he finally has a starring, rather than supporting role. I was lucky enough to see him play Javert in the full production of Les Mis at The Queen’s Theatre. Thanks to this DVD, many others will now get the chance to hear his excellent voice.
Ramin Karimloo freed from his Phantom makeup was a handsome, inspiring and strong-voiced Enjoloras and received a massive cheer at the end.
Nick Jonas (a controversial casting) is not equal in voice in any way to his co-performers and had the most peculiar expressions throughout, but here (above) with Katie Hall as Cosette, he made for a suitably youthful Marius.
The highly talented and ever reliable Hadley Fraser (above) is a fine Grantaire, his voice here is astounding, his range and tone are just fabulous, it’s a pity he doesn’t have a bigger role. Fraser is another performer I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in the Queen’s Theatre production – that time playing Javert.
Matt Lucas fulfils a lifetime dream of appearing in Les Mis and uses his comedic talents to their best effect as Thenardier.
Lea Salonga is Fantine and equips herself well enough, but I must admit I found her American twang a bit strong.
Special mention must also go to little Robert Madge (above), a scene-stealer as Gavroche.
This is, of course, a concert, but in order to add more of a theatrical feeling to the performance the actors were costumed in either designs from the original production or the 25th Anniversary UK tour. The production design was enhanced with a multi-level set to accommodate the 500-member cast, orchestra and choir. In lieu of the building of the barricade, the massive lighting tracks descended and tilted complemented by spectacular lighting effects. Video projections from the stage version added further drama to replace scenes that could not be conveyed in a concert environment. Overall only minor cuts were made from the full theatrical version – and none of the cuts particularly hurt the final product.
Due to the constraints of a concert production, and the fact that this was being filmed for both cinema and DVD release the actors had obviously been told to rein in the theatrics. Several of the ensemble were on the verge of acting out the roles they had either played before or were currently playing in the West End in full theatricality if not for the reminder of the microphone in front of them.
A highlight of the evening was the appearance of The Four Valjeans (above l-r); Simon Bowman (Queen’s Theatre cast), Alfie Boe, Colm Wilkinson (the original cast) and John Owen-Jones (Barbican Theatre cast) their version of “Bring Him Home” was utterly moving. Each of the four are supremely gifted performers. I love this musical, it really does have the power to move you. I defy anyone not to have a tear in their eye at the end of this and I urge anyone who gets the chance to go and see it on stage.
Last night Fleetwood’s Finest Alfie Boe brought his Bring Him Home tour to Glasgow. Boe’s voice and engaging personality are a winner from the start, and he has the crowd eating out of his hand with Scottish anecdotes a-plenty, including one about touring round the Highlands and Islands with Scottish Opera, with a front row of crisp-munching kids and a dog in the audience.
The moment Boe begins to sing, you know he is serious about his talent – the cheeky chappie persona disappears and the intensity of his performance transforms him into the star he truly is.
The show was a stream of highlights from the emotional, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and In My Daughter’s Eyes, the pitch perfect, crisp, rendition of Sinatra’s It Was a Very Good Year, an entertaining Bond Medley including a fab Thunderball to musical favourites like Hushaby Mountain and Tell Me It’s Not True. From start to finish Boe doesn’t put a foot or note wrong. The highlight of the show is Bring Him Home, a song I had the priviledge of hearing him sing at The Queen’s Theatre when he played Jean Valjean in Les Mis. It was glorious here too.
For his extended encore, he mixed opera classic O Sole Mio with some Elvis then finished off playing the drums (brilliantly) and singing We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder to a crowd of 3000 on their feet screaming for more. This shows you that contrary to popular belief nice guys do finish first and make thousands of people happy in the process. I’m sure that, like me, everyone who can, will be there to see him next year (in March) when he plays here again – if you were there tonight tell your friends and see you there next year!
I booked to see this as soon as it was announced that Alfie Boe and Matt Lucas were to re-create the roles they had performed at the 25th anniversary concert, but this time in the full company of Les Mis at The Queen’s Theatre. I went to see this days after the 3 day break to install a state of the art sound system and enlarge the orchestra pit to accommodate the musicians needed to play the new scoring from the 25th anniversary concert. It was also the first week of the new cast.
I am sure everyone knows what a fantastic singer Alfie Boe is, but how would he cut it in musical theatre, singing (in his case) 6 shows a week? Many an opera star has come to grief – either unable to lose their operatic stylings or live up to the physical demands of this type of performing.
Well he was truly world-class. When he started singing I thought, wow this is beautiful but when he unleashed his voice using his full range it was truly spectacular. Rarely have I sat in a theatre and felt a singers voice reverberate from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. The hairs on my arms were actually standing on end. It did help that I was in the centre of the third row and could quite literally see the whites of his eyes, but from the ear-splitting roars from the standing ovation at the end, which had many of the cast, including Boe and Lucas in tears at the end, I think everyone agreed.
Now, to the rest of the cast and Thenardier, who is not exactly the subtlest of roles in this show, in fact, he provides the only moments of light-heartedness and comedy. It’s often taken totally over the top, and you would think with a comedian in the role he would take it to the extreme – but Matt Lucas (above) elevated Thenardier to a whole new level – his comic timing was sublime and in some instances so subtle, at times all it took was a tiny look and the audience were howling with laughter. His voice more than held up and was a charming surprise.
Now to the rest of the cast. Caroline Sheen (above) was pretty underwhelming vocally as Fantine and looked almost manic at points when she was required to act with any emotion. Which begs the question when are they going to get someone who can actually fill this role. They have one of musical theatre’s best known and most loved songs and I have yet to hear it done any justice in the theatre. Thankfully the strength of the other performances around her didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the show.
Hadley Fraser has a superb voice and was a Javert of strength and presence. The only criticism were the odd facial expressions at times (a glimmer of which we’re treated to above). He was an angry Javert, a very ANGRY in fact, and I’ve read in other blogs that he was the same when they went. On the whole though, a commanding Javert and Fraser is a massive musical talent with a stunning voice.
Alexia Khadime (above with Craig Mather) was perfectly adequate as Eponine but she brought little either vocally or dramatically to the part. Craig Mather as Marius was of fine voice and showed up his predecessor Gareth Gates weak vocals.
Liam Tamne (above) was a spectacularly good Enjolras, very charismatic, both his voice and his acting were fabulous.
One audience member from the US who had seen it in London twice before, on Broadway and the American tour, left in tears saying she had never seen a performance like it. It was truly magical – powerful, emotional and life-affirming – truly wonderful.