Michael Ball and Alfie Boe first met when performing together in Kismet and have become lifelong friends. They decided to work together simply because they thought it would be fun.
“We both love the same music, and we thought by combining we’d have a good time, but also add an extra dimension to songs that people already know and hopefully love,” explained Michael Ball.
“And it worked,” added Alfie Boe.
Indeed, it has worked. Their album, appropriately titled Together, was the best selling album in the UK in 2016 and had the critics raving.
Ball admitted that solo concerts can be very lonely. Sharing the stage with a fellow performer and good friend means those special on-stage moments can be shared with someone else who will understand.
Their concerts include an array of songs from film, theatre and even the world of pop.
“The majority of the repertoire that we’re doing is on the album. We do have a few little special moments: we love swing music, so there’s a tribute to that genre, we’re both fans of Elvis so we do a bit of an Elvis medley, but it’s a real vibrant live show. There’s every emotion under the sun that you could imagine,” explained Boe.
Ball and Boe know there are certain songs their audiences will expect.
“I think we’d be lynched if we didn’t do stuff from Les Miserables!” exclaimed Ball, with Boe nodding in agreement.
“And I wouldn’t want to not do that. It’s been such an important show for both of us – life changing for both of us – and to get the opportunity to do that together …,” said Ball.
“I didn’t want to do it,” Boe interrupted.
“He wanted to do White Snake. I said no,” said Ball.
Boe then added, “It was either Les Mis or a Wham! medley and I thought …”
This time, Ball quickly interrupted, “But we are going to have a Wham! Medley. He even thinks I’m joking. It’ll be awesome!”
The conversation continued about costume options and how Wham! used shuttlecocks down their shorts when they first appeared on UK television’s Top of the Pops. It’s easy to see why the pair enjoy working together. The banter flows naturally, and just as one takes a more serious train of thought, the other will spontaneously jump in and lighten the mood. This banter is something they take into their concert.
“There’s the serious moments, there’s the fun moments and there’s the joking moments. But also there’s an element of spontaneity in the show. If there’s anything happening we’ll react to it,” said Boe.
“Also, you can’t just pack a show full of big emotional highs. That dissipates the energy of them. So you have to have times when it’s quiet and it’s just the two of us sitting down with a guitar and explore that side of the voices, because then, when you go into the big songs like ‘Anthem’ from Chess or ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ from Blood Brothers, they have much more of an impact. Putting a show together is like putting a musical together. It’s about finding a dramatic arc and taking an audience on a journey,” explained Ball.
The concert is something Ball and Boe have worked on together. While they said they are always assessing the show to ensure it is working, they admit there is very little needing to be changed.
“We pretty much cracked it,” said Boe.
One of the highlights of the concert is performing a Les Miserables suite created for them by composer Claude-Michel Schönberg.
Michael Ball originated the role of Marius in the world premiere of Les Miserables. It’s a musical loved by fans around the world. I asked Ball if he could imagine back then just how significant this musical would be.
“Genuinely, when we first did the show, we didn’t think we’d last eleven weeks! We knew within the company, within the creation of it, that something extraordinary was happening: the feeling of ensemble, the work that the directors were doing. We believed in it passionately. We opened, thinking this could be a game-changer, and we opened to the worst reviews you’ve ever read! It was only because the people came – it was word of mouth. And Cameron McIntosh – this is the genius of the guy – took the punt and took it from the Royal Shakespeare Company into the West End. We put it in the Palace Theatre, which is owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber – and Andrew’s thinking, ‘Well, I’ve got Phantom of the Opera coming along soon, so I can fill the theatre for six months and then I can put Phantom in there. Thirty years later!” Ball laughed. “It turned into this worldwide phenomenon! I wish we’d known at the time, we sort of did, but I wish we’d known at the time just how special this was going to be.”
Alfie Boe joined the Les Mis family quite some time later and I assumed he was already very familiar with the show before joining. I assumed wrong.
I asked, “Alfie you came into it much later, so clearly you already had a good knowledge of it?”
Boe replied, “No, not at all.”
At that moment, Michael Ball quickly turned to face Alfie Boe and took over the questioning.
“Did you not know it?” asked Ball, genuinely surprised.
“No. I didn’t know it. I didn’t know it at all. I learnt it in a week before I had to do the 25th anniversary. I did two weeks prior to the concert, in the West End and I did five days rehearsal, literally five days rehearsal, to get into the track of Valjean for the West End,” explained Boe.
Ball looked stunned, “But did you not know the music beforehand? You hadn’t heard any of it?
Boe replied, “No.”
Michael Ball looked back at me, speechless. Clearly, we were both surprised by this revelation.
“Look, I’m an opera singer, not a musical theatre singer.” said Boe, breaking our stunned silence.
“But that’s an extraordinary leap, isn’t it?” replied Ball.
“I didn’t know whether it was something I could take on. I didn’t know if it was right for me, until I started listening to it. And I remember at home, I was in Oxford, I sat in my house and my wife said to me, ‘You have to do this, you have to listen to this, this is the best show ever. Listen to it.’ So I sat down at the dining room table, put my headphones on and the minute the first note struck up I was hooked. I was hooked from beginning to end and I just listened to it over and over and over again – constant – until I got that music, that character and every single emotion that guy was going through into my body. He’s never left me since. It’s true. That guy is engrained in me. There’s something about Valjean I can relate to every day of my life,” shared Boe.
Boe then explained he had sung ‘Bring Him Home’ and ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ as a child but that was all he knew of Les Miserables.
“It wasn’t the full song that I sang. So I didn’t really know it till I started to study it for the 25th anniversary,” said Boe.
“I’m so glad I did. It was the best thing I ever did. That was my real break into musical theatre, ’cause I’d been singing in opera around the world for fifteen/sixteen years after leaving college, and that was my world and I always wanted to break out of it. That opportunity came up and I knew Les Miserables would give me that access to another world, to that musical theatre world, to that contemporary world and give me that legitimacy of being able to do it and being able to prove what my voice is capable of,” Boe shared.
“It’s more fun on the dark side!” laughed Ball, breaking the seriousness of the conversation.
“I was known as the bad boy opera for many years,” immediately replied Boe.
“Were you really?” asked Ball.
“Yes,” confirmed Boe.
“See, I’ve never been the bad boy of music theatre,” pouted Ball.
And just like that, it was back to the banter.
Ball and Boe expect that their upcoming concert tour will be first time most Australians will have seen the pair perform live.
“I love this country. It’s outstanding. It’s beautiful and the people are wonderful,” said a very heartfelt Boe.
“And we’re not blowing smoke, we’re absolutely genuine,” added Ball.
Audiences can expect to hear two superb voices in concert – just don’t arrive expecting a completely straight-faced and serious night.
“We take the music seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously!” laughed Ball.
You can be guaranteed Michael Ball and Alfie Boe will be having fun!
Michael Ball and Alfie Boe’s Australian concert tour commences on October 5th.
For more information and tickets: https://www.livenation.com.au/artists/michael-ball-alfie-boe