BWW Sydney Interview: Michael Ball And Alfie Boe Ahead of Their Australian TOGETHER Concert Tour
TOGETHER Concert Tour
Tuesday 25th July 2017, 1:30pm, Universal Music Australia
BWW Sydney was thrilled to have the opportunity of interviewing two Musical Theatre legends, Michael Ball OBE and Alfie Boe, currently in Sydney promoting their upcoming TOGETHER tour. Following on from the success of the double-platinum selling Christmas #1 UK album TOGETHER, and major sold out tours of the UK, Live Nation are bringing Ball and Boe's successful show to Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth in October 2017.
Whilst it is well known that the pair met 11 years ago when they both performed in the English National Opera's production of KISMET, Ball provided a wonderful insight into the collaboration that came about to create the Album and the Concert tour. Michael recalls that he and Alfie had become friends and "Alf", as he affectionately calls his singing partner, "made me do the Pearlfishers duet" for Michael's Proms for the Albert Hall "because I needed something Posh" and Michael then went on to Alfie's album and they sang Empty Chairs At Empty Tables together. Michael recalls that they "kept threatening to do something proper together, and last year, the stars were in alignment" and they decided to do "a couple of concerts " From these concerts, record companies approached them to make an album and they did the big tour in the UK and it "snowballed and mushroomed really organically and nicely" which has in turn bought them to Australia.
Seeing that the pair have a wonderful rapport, it is clear that these two gorgeous gentlemen have the capacity for mischief so when posed with the question of on stage or off-stage shenanigans, the pair divulged their playful nature which has them "always trying to do something to put each other off our game" as Alfie responds to Michael's protests of "he's awful", because he believes Alfie has never forgiven him for his hijinks during KISMET. Alfie recounts that he was "singing one of the most stunningly beautiful love duets in the show, Strangers In Paradise, and I'm stood there, opposite this nice little soprano who is looking at me longingly in the eyes and I just glance over to the left and I see Michael in the wings, with his pants down and hoisted up his kaftan, showing his backside to me". Michael recalls that Alfie did "hold it together" though and that he was "very proud of him". Alfie has since got his revenge in the form of wrecking Michael's dressing room but Michael counters the impact with the fact that Alfie "then put it back together". As Alfie describes it, "it was Rock and Roll for a minute" and he "vacuumed after it as well".
Knowing that many performers have little rituals or superstitions around performances, it was amusing to learn that Michael's superstitions have rubbed off on Alfie. Whilst Alfie first tried to be "a little rebellious" about Michael's 'no whistling' rule, complete with steps to counter the 'bad luck', he states that Michael's response of "Well, ok, if that's what you really want to do" started to weigh on his mind and he'd now automatically go "out of the room, turn around three times, spit, swear, and knock and ask to come back in" if he found himself whistling. Alfie has found that Michael's 'rules' have led to a degree of paranoia whenever he catches himself whistling, regardless of how far he is from the theatre, whether it be walking down the street or at the grocery store.
When it comes to interesting stories from live performance, the two recall their final performance of their UK tour when they were met with a freak weather change when they reached Scarborough. Whilst the rest of the British summer had given them "amazing" weather with 34 degree C days, the temperature dropped to 9 degrees, torrential rain was being blown sideways with 45 mph winds and they sang completely soaked whilst the orchestra huddled in the back of the stage. Michael does recall though that he did however "love every second" of it and it was a testament to the pair's appeal that the audience of 7,000 remained, wrapped up in raincoats while it rained for the two hour show.
Alfie also recalled an incident at one of their New York concerts where a Michael was met with the challenge of not knowing the names of American personal products. With a degree of glee, Alfie recounts that "this woman in the front row got up to go to the bathroom" and as Alfie is known for making a "bit of a scene" he turned to Michael with the comment "oh, she won't be long" which was met with the response of "depends" to which Alfie froze, realising the potential double meaning and the audience had the expression of "that's going a bit far", whilst Michael was oblivious to the product reference till intermission.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY
On a more serious note, the gentlemen were posed with the question of how they cope being away from loved ones which highlighted the care and respect the two have for each other as Michael stated that the separation was hard for him but he considered that for Alfie "its doubly hard because he's got young kids" and understands the value of Facetime and Skype. With a tenderness, Alfie however notes that the technology however "never replaces being with your family" as he explains that it is very hard but he weighs up the challenge by knowing that he's touring for his family, to give his family and his kids a very good life and "to set them up for the future". He acknowledges that "there is no real easy way around it" and that "you have to do what you have to do" and this is the career he has chosen.
He thankfully has Michael with him on the tour which even though the two banter and tease each other throughout the 20 minute interview, it is clear there is a mutual respect, adoration and firm friendship even as Alfie claims, with a cheeky grin, that working with Michael is one of the sacrifices of the job but he has chosen to view it as charity, helping the Aged as Michael is 11 years older. The two playfully joke that they don't socialise with each other but the Alfie's eyes and Michael's grin, complete with the signature dimples tell the truth that they do get along outside of the official work time. The two know each other well enough to realise when they need space or could do with the company and support, both having an intuition about each other's needs. They do admit that during tours there is often very little time for socialising with the tight schedules of back to back shows, being bused from one town to the next, having a few hours of personal time in hotels before going on to stage then repeating for the next town. They do realise that the TOGETHER tour, with only two performers is a different dynamic to the large companies or solo tours they have previously worked with as only they really know how the other is feeling at the end of a show, how they are feeling travelling halfway around the world and facing full days of interviews and that it is good to be experiencing something together as that is "much better than doing it on your own" and being there for each other to "pick each other up" is an important part of the show.
When considering Michael and Alfie's music, both solo and in TOGETHER, one striking point of their style is their ability to connect to the songs and convey this to their audience. Michael attributes this to he and Alfie's understanding that their 'job' as singers is "not just to hit the notes" and that it is to "interpret lyrics" to impart emotion and feeling for the listener which can be on a "really trivial level" for "happy go lucky" pieces or "get right inside something" for the deeper, more meaningful works. Alfie adds that "you can tell when a singer is just connecting with the music and when they are not connecting with the lyrics, with the story" and that you can tell there is a huge difference. Alfie cites Greek American soprano Maria Callas work, which may not have been the best vocally, but her connection with every song made her "stunning because of her acting ability and the connection to the text".
SELECTING AND ARRANGING SONGS
TOGETHER showcases how beautifully Michael and Alfie's voices complement each other and it raised the question of how they prepare their songs. Michael described the process where the find songs, some of which are obscure, either by finding works that they feel will suit their voices and be exciting and beautiful works, or have suggestions from others and they'll first bring it to the other for consideration and they can instinctively can hear it or know whether they can arrange it to suit them. Michael describes the process from there as "we have a song, we have some ideas in our head, we get around the piano and we instinctively have found our roles within songs, whether it be finding a high harmony, finding a low harmony, who is taking the melody, who is doing this version, who is doing that". He explains that "it happened naturally" and "simply" which is incredible and highlights how in tune these two are with each other in knowing their strengths and capabilities.
Alfie added that for TOGETHER, the first week was discovering their roles, what worked best and how to "compliment each other's performance" and that their up coming album TOGETHER AGAIN, which they have just finished recording was built off that existing format and knowledge allowing the work to "gel" as they now knew what works. With that knowledge, they do however still seek to experiment and try things that people may not necessarily expect, particularly for the works they present in the concerts. The two were taunting BWWSydney with the content of TOGETHER AGAIN, as they refused to name the work that they scrapped from the first album because they "recorded it wrong", trying it again from a different angle, pulling it back from the big piece they had arranged before to returning to the "way it should be done".
MUSICAL BUCKET LISTS
Whilst many performers have a wish list of roles they would love to play it was surprising to hear that Michael had ticked off his list and Alfie didn't really have a list. Michael stated that the two roles he was "desperate to do" were Edna (from Hairspray) and Sweeney Todd and whilst he has not others on his immediate list at the moment, he's always got his "eyes open" for other roles that may catch his fancy. Alfie's approach was that he doesn't "go out looking for roles" as he is a "firm believer in the characters out of shows finding you". He didn't expect the role of Jean Valjean or Billy Bigelow but they were "really exciting" when they did come "knocking" at his door. He believes in "rising to the challenge of taking on characters like that" and even when he was singing opera, he didn't have a list of operas he specifically wanted to sing, rather he was "just excited to sing them".
With long and successful careers, it was highly likely that both performers had come back to a work that defined their earlier career with a new knowledge and wisdom of experience. For both Michael and Alfie, the first work on TOGETHER, is a revisiting of an earlier part of their career. For Michael, he recalls that he's sung Empty Chairs At Empty Tables in every concert he has done but he found that going "back to the studio and have Claude-Michel Schonberg be part of creating this new Les Misérables Suite, to have Alf singing Bring Him Home to start with , segueing into Empty Chairs, going into I Dreamed A Dream, which is Fantine's song, but we can sing it, no one can stop us, that was great for me, 32 years on, to rediscover, in a recording studio, a new way of doing something I know so well".
In addition to the Les Misérables Suite, Alfie shared his continued revisiting of Franz Lehar's You Are My Heart's Delight which his father used to sing "around the house, morning, noon and night, all the time". Alfie recorded this piece on a Viennese album and whenever he does his own, individual concerts he tries different ways of singing it because the work is so close to his heart.
As well as getting a fabulous insight into the playful and serious side of Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, it became apparent, not that it ever really wasn't, that their concert TOGETHER is a must-see event of the when it tours the country in October. With forewarning not to leave the theatre during the performance and be prepared for some hijinks from the boys (these two really are just big kids in some ways), with their wicked grins and propensity for mischief, audiences can also expect to experience some incredible music presented with heart and brimming with emotion, and possibly a bit of Michael's 1992 Eurovision song One Step Out Of Time. Whilst you are waiting for October to come around though, TOGETHER is available for purchase on CD or download at the usual places.
QPAC CONCERT HALL, BRISBANE THURSDAY OCTOBER 5
HAMER HALL, ARTS CENTRE MELBOURNE SATURDAY OCTOBER 7
STATE THEATRE, SYDNEY WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 11
AEC THEATRE, ADELAIDE SATURDAY OCTOBER 14
CROWN THEATRE, PERTH MONDAY OCTOBER 16
TICKETS ON SALE 10AM FRIDAY JULY 7
My Live Nation pre-sale: 10am July 5 until 5pm July 6
For complete tour and ticket information, visit: www.livenation.com.au