BWW REVIEW: West End's Best, Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, Capture Hearts With The Whirlwind Australian TOGETHER Tour
Wednesday 11th 8pm State Theatre Sydney
Following on from a double-platinum selling Christmas #1 UK album of duets, TOGETHER, and a sold-out tour of the UK, British musical theatre heartbreakers Michael Ball and Alfie Boe bring their brand of star quality 'Down Under' to the delight of fans. The mischievous mates share songs from musical theatre and beyond with a fabulous mutual respect and adoration in the two hour TOGETHER concert that showcases the sensitivity and passion of these wonderful gentlemen.
The audience is transported to a comfortable blend of the old world charm of the opulent New York supper clubs, complete with tiered stage and white baby grand; and the trappings of modern concerts with three giant LED screens and an impressive light show designed by Rowan Denny. The 14 piece band are spread across the three levels, led by Musical Director Callum McCloud. Three backup singers (Annette Roche, Janine Maunder, and Michelle Serret-Cursio), also in black are positioned unobtrusively to the side of the centre level, keeping the focus on the men of the moment. Ball and Boe are initially dressed alike in French Navy blazers and black skinny jeans with their footwear being the outlet for more personal expression, from Ball's more traditional oxfords and Boe's hipster black high-top sneakers, reinforcing Boe's younger image in comparison to Ball's more conservative styling. For the second half of the show they take on a more formal look, again expressing their individuality from Ball's bow tie and dinner jacket and Boe's signature three-piece suit, still with the sneakers.
As with their album, the TOGETHER Concert features the fabulous combined voices of the two tenors with many works direct from the first collaboration, much to the delight of fans that had already secured a copy of the collection. They also include a few selections from their new album, TOGETHER AGAIN, due for release at the end of the month along with a collection of works they are yet to record and some solo pieces to showcase their individual interests. TOGETHER is however much more than just an evening of beautiful music, allowing the audience a glimpse at the fabulous friendship that started 11 years ago. Carrying on the 'tradition' which started during their first show together, KISMET, of "always trying to do something to put each other off our game", as Alfie divulged during the interview with BWWSydney in July, the two are still pulling gags on each other. During their banter before Wonderful World/Over The Rainbow Michael managed to set Alfie into fits of laughter and they appeared to have set a bet that Michael couldn't get away with adding a series of baseball swings, Alfie seemingly counting them off on his fingers before Luck Be A Lady which led to one of several "dance offs". The jibes at pies and professional dance training aside, the concert shows the mutual adoration between the more flamboyant and charmingly cheeky Ball and the seemingly more reserved and intense, but wickedly mischievous Boe who appeared to be bouncing with energy for the Sydney show, alternating between playfulness and flashing looks towards Ball's efforts that look akin to a younger brother bewildered or embarrassed by his big brother's antics.
Musically the two are perfect, pulling on heartstrings, capturing the essence of the songs with texture and sensitivity, not just the music, presenting new expressions of the selections infused with the wisdom of understanding every question, confession and statement woven into the text. Boe's opera training shows through his control and intensity with pure vocals that ring out to reach down into your soul and are paired with a physicality that echoes the mood of the music from the stillness of pensive moments to his expression of his love of rock numbers, displaying a great passion and playfulness. When compared with Boe's voice, Ball has a gentler, musical theatre driven sound that feels like a warm hug, enveloping and comforting, and Ball matches this style with his expressive physicality that hams up his expression with a delightful campiness. Both have amazing falsetto, particularly during Speak Softly, Love and they ensure that all the works are delivered without straining, understanding their own capabilities.
With most of the works well known and having personally had the CD of TOGETHER on repeat since BWWSydney's interview in July, experiencing the songs live brings and even better understanding of the connection Ball and Boe have with the music and how they convey this to the audience, ensuring that they "interpret the lyrics" to impart emotion and feeling as Ball explained in July. During the tour two are also experimenting with new variations of the works to deliver fresh interpretations of the pieces, adding new flourishes and harmonies. Throughout the works it is clear that there is a passion, sincerity and honesty in their delivery and the range of the work allows the audience to see a side of the two that some may not be expecting. Along with musical theatre works there is Elvis, contemporary ballads, rock and even an iconic Australian work. Whilst Ball shares two of his most famous works, particularly the piece he claims to have performed at every concert he has done, Boe's solo spot really captivates the audience. With enthusiasm and a considerable degree of faith in the audience to participate, Boe teaches the audience the chorus to Warren Zevon's Keep Me In Your Heart with surprisingly good results.
Whilst the live band is great, it is noted that the concert did incorporate backing tracks and the orchestrations were somewhat pared back from the fuller orchestral that one might expect from this type of work. A solo woodwind musician skilfully covered several instruments but the arrangement meant that the sound wasn't as layered as it could have been with another woodwind musician. The guitar duet (Murray Gould and Sam Grimley) supporting Wonderful World/Over the Rainbow gives the work a delicateness and a contrast to the bigger ballads and rock pieces. The selection strikes the right balance of more pensive works like BLOOD BROTHERS' Tell Me It's Not True, filled with regret, denial and disbelief and the romantic devotion of TWILIGHT's A Thousand Years and the more uplifting works like WEST SIDE STORY's Tonight and the playful Me And My Shadow. The trio of backing singers provide a good support to the gentlemen without overpowering and Ball's brief stint joining the ladies whilst Boe holds centre stage is priceless.
For those in Adelaide and Perth, TOGETHER's brief tour is a definite Must See particularly given how rarely Michael Ball and Alfie Boe make it down to Australia. Whether you have grown up listening to their work (Ball's music having provided BWWSydney's Senior Editor an emotional 'escape' from boarding school and having inspired BWWSydney's regular plus 1 to pursue a career in the arts), have recently discovered their amazing talents through recordings of the anniversary concerts of LES MISERABLES and the like, or simply have a love of musical theatre and magical interpretation of well-known songs from a myriad of genres, you will not be disappointed. BWWSydney hopes the Australian fans do not have to wait too long before Ball and Boe return to our shores.
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
For complete tour and ticket information, visit: www.livenation.com.au