(This is a guest post, completely unique to this week, by Jane over at thoughtsofjustafan.com.)
Alfie Boe was famously discovered singing in the TVR factory as a teenager. After successfully auditioning for the D’oyly Carte opera company, Alfie then went on to train at the Royal College of Music in London. A stint at the Vilar Young Artist Programme at the Royal Opera House followed, before the bright lights of La Boheme on Broadway beckoned.
Alfie then spent the next few years learning his craft as a young tenor, notably appearing with ENO several times. Stand out roles included Rodolfo (twice) in Jonathan Miller’s production of La Boheme and The Mikado, again with Jonathan Miller.
Meanwhile, Alfie had been attempting to find a new audience by releasing a number of classical albums :Classic FM Presents (2006), Onward (2007), La Passione (2007), Love was a Dream (2009).
However, the opera life did not always go to plan and in 2010 Alfie appeared as Jean ValJean in the 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables. The rapturous audience response ensured that Alfie was quickly on his way to reaching a whole new audience. Two bestselling albums (Bring Him Home, 2010 and Alfie, 2011) swiftly followed. Alfie also showed he is a consummate performer and a workaholic with two UK tours and two US tours in short succession.
Storyteller, released in November 2012 took Alfie in a different direction, showcasing a combination of popular classics and American folk / gospel sounds. The last three tracks of that album paved the way for the sound of Trust, which was released in November 2013 (April 2014 in America). Trust has a soulful, almost spiritual feel in some tracks and has Alfie’s first original song “Trust“.
Alfie’s toured the UK for his third headline tour in November / December 2014 which showcased music from all his albums, including his latest, Serenata. After a break from live shows in the early part of 2015 Alfie appeared on a mini UK summer tour taking in Northern Ireland (two intimate dates at the Culloden Spa Hotel) and a handful of music festivals: Hampton Court Festival, Alive @ Delapre, Millenium Square, Leeds, Llangollen Eistedfodd and Scarborough Last Night of the Proms. In the middle of all this, Alfie starred as Jimmy in the world premiere of Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia at the Royal Albert Hall. He had earlier recorded the vocals for the album of the same name.
Alfie’s last album, Serenata, was recorded in London and Denmark in Spring 2014 and was released in November 2014. The album marks a return to the Italian folk songs so beloved of Alfie and marks the third collaboration between him and producers Morgan Pochin. It debuted at number 14 in the charts on release and 3 in the classical chart.
September 2015 saw Alfie return to the role that made most of us stand up and take notice of him – Jean Valjean in the Broadway revival of Les Miserables. Rave reviews followed and continued until the end of the run in February 2016. Never one to rest on his laurels, Alfie went straight into rehearsals for a short run as JM Barrie in Finding Neverland, also on Broadway. This marked something of a new departure for Alfie, with dancing and more complex choreography thrown into the mix but fabulous reviews also followed.
Alfie’s next project is an album and UK tour with Michael Ball. Titled Together, the album was released last week with the tour also starting last week and continuing until December.
Alfie Boe’s most famous role is as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, a role he has performed at the 25th anniversary concert, in the West End and on Broadway. I interviewed Alfie before he started on Broadway in 2015 and asked him what he thought would be the greatest difference in his approach from when he played the role in the West End. The main difference would be the difference in the production: “the production is completely different, it’s not the same show I performed in the West End”. Alfie went on to say that although the music is the same, the structure and choreography is different, so “I’m excited to embrace the new direction for the role”. As Alfie had appeared on Broadway before (La Boheme) I wanted to know how and if that experience would differ. Of course, La Boheme was only three shows a week and now he is fully embracing the show with seven shows. Did the fact that he is a lot more well known now factor at all? The answer was definitely not, Alfie said “although I’m a little more well known than I was back then I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on doing the job, doing it properly, performing each show I’m in to the highest standard”.
Talking about the differences and the challenges of returning to the show naturally led us on to Alfie’s time in the West End. I’d forgotten (no idea how!) that Alfie had been in the show for a couple of weeks prior to the 25th anniversary show at the O2. Alfie said that he had had a great experience, loved every minute of his new venture into the world of musicals as he’d not really done much in the West End before that. He made friends immediately amongst the cast which as Alfie says was “a blessing, it stuck with me for a long time. They helped me, supported me in my interpretation of the role and character. A wonderful experience”.
Of course, performing an iconic role like Jean Valjean means a lot of pressure to be wonderful every night but also brings the opportunity to sing an incredible score every night which inevitably gets an incredible audience response. When asked to choose his favourite JVJ song, I felt that Alfie could easily have chosen them all and indeed mentioned the epilogue, the soliloquy and of course his signature tune, Bring Him Home. Alfie says “Bring Him Home is the song that everyone turns to but for me, one of the greatest moments to express true emotion and strength is towards the beginning of the show in the soliloquy. It’s a real embracing of emotion, expressing the emotion to the audience. I put a lot into those moments, anxiety, fear, passion to reach an understanding of who he is as a character, so I really like that moment in particular. Also, at the end of the show, the epilogue is a beautiful piece , when he’s realising he’s close to death, coming to the end of his life, I really enjoyed singing those moments too”.
Although JVJ is the our focus here, Les Mis is a show full of outstanding songs so I was interested in asking the JVJ’s I interviewed if they had a favourite song by another character. Alfie chose Stars by Javert and revealed that he’s actually quite jealous that he doesn’t get to sing that song in the show himself! He also chose Norm Lewis as his favourite Javert, saying “I’ve heard it sung by so many Javerts but the one that sticks in my mind is Norm Lewis at the 25th anniversary and also Earl Carpenter [which is handy, seeing as he’s in the Broadway show!]. Those are the two guys who stick in ,my mind, their rendition of that song, very talented singers”.
It’s interesting that although Alfie chose Starsas his favourite songs that he doesn’t sing, in his new album, Together, with Michael Ball, the Les Mismedley includes Empty Chairs and I Dreamed a Dream, not Stars. Perhaps the arrangements wouldn’t work for a duet.