Michael Ball and Alfie Boe – Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Reviews hub - 27/11/16 ~
At first sight, this really shouldn’t work. Two singers, ostensibly from quite different traditions – musical theatre and classical – singing together shouldn’t blend. Yet look a little closer and we recall that Alfie Boe has a fine track record in musical theatre too, having starred in productions of Les Misérables; and as long ago as 2007, Michael Ball was invited to perform in the first musical theatre prom concert – at which he and Boe performed The Pearl Fishers duet having met the previous year performing together in the English National Opera’s revival of Kismet. So maybe it wasn’t such a stretch when they got together this year to produce a crossover album, Together, which this tour incidentally serves to promote.
And, as befits two such titans, no expense is spared. This is a tour with high production values – the set is sumptuous with clean white lines, LED screens and multiple levels, the band consists of 16 instrumentalists and three backing singers providing lush orchestrations and simpler arrangements, and, of course, we have Ball and Boe at the centre. This all could be rather sterile, but the obvious friendship between Ball and Boe and their good-natured, unforced banter with each other and the audience helps develop a rapport with the audience in the packed Symphony Hall.
The evening opens with the band playing Somewhere from West Side Story with the disembodied voices of Ball and Boe joining in before appearing on stage to rapturous applause – with clapping and swinging from the audience continuing through the very upbeat rendition of Tonight that follows. And so the tone is set for an evening of contrasts and delights from these stalwarts of the music scene. We are reminded what a great interpreter of a song Ball is and of the sheer power of Boe during Music of the Night. We also hear them in perhaps less likely settings – the first half ends with a barnstorming tribute to Elvis Presley in which both stake a claim to be able to take up an alternative career as Elvis impersonators, should the crossover recording work dry up. By contrast, the second half opens with a swing medley, including a humorous Me and My Shadow, and during which it’s clear they both have phrasing to challenge Sinatra’s and could easily make a living as song-and-dance men with their soft shoe shuffles. This is followed by a James Bond medley of big production numbers – an eclectic evening, indeed.
It’s in the second half, too, that each singer has the chance to spend some time alone with the audience, with Boe performing Love Reign O’er Me from Quadrophenia and Ball performing, of course, Love Changes Everything.
So maybe not as unlikely a pairing after all. This concert has everything – show-stopping anthems, moments of intimacy, and real spine-tingling moments, for example, in Tell Me It’s Not So from Blood Brothers – from two masters of their craft. One is unlikely to experience anything quite like it again, and for fans of these singers or of these wide-ranging genres, they are unmissable, Togeth