If you were to make a supergroup of musical theatre performers, Michael Ball and Alfie Boe would surely be at the top of anyone’s dream list.
But that dream is set to become reality as the pair embark on a huge 28-date tour, including a sold-out show at the Blackpool Opera House on Wednesday, November 23.
The show will act as a homecoming for Alfie, who actually worked at the Opera House as stage crew, before anybody really knew about his hidden musical talent.
“I used to set up the stages for Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Status Quo, The Everly Brothers, everybody who used to perform there. I always avoided it if Michael was there!” he laughs.
“I actually got fired from there. It was a production of 42nd Street and all I had to do was open this trap door and hand this dancer a big wooden coin to put on the floor and tap dance. I was fast asleep and she was stamping on the floor to try and wake me up. The guy who fired me still works there and he’s a good mate but I’m going to smash his face in when I see him!”
Something that becomes apparent straight way, when talking to Alfie and Michael is the chemistry and banter that they share, often comically putting each other down, with Michael quipping “oh God! Two northerners”, as I asked my first question about what made two supremely successful soloists decide to join forces.
I used to set up the stages for Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Status Quo - everybody who used to perform. I always avoided it if Michael was there!Alfie Boe
“We’ve both always wanted to be in a boyband.” Michael jokes.
“It came about because we’ve known each other 10 years. We’re mates, we’d talked about doing it and then we had this idea of doing a concert, which turned into a tour, which turned into an album and a tour.
“Right from the moment we talked about it, there was sort of an excitement from us, from the people around us and that’s translated into audiences. It sounds cheesy but it was quite organic, it was the right time for us, the way that we worked out what the songs were going to be, it all just slotted together.
“It’ll all go horribly wrong obviously. The good thing is that we don’t speak and don’t look each other in the eye!”
Alfie continues: “We will be playing separate theatres in Blackpool!
“No it really is an exciting project to be involved in. We are having a good time. We’re about to start rehearsals for the tour next week and that’s going to be an exciting, creative process. It’s a load of fun.”
Blackpool is a town that holds bittersweet memories for Michael Ball and he actually had a residency at the Opera House during one Christmas in years gone by. “I think the most memorable time was when I came up to switch on the Blackpool Illuminations.
“They had a Rolls Royce and we had out-riders to take me down the Golden Mile. I think it was that night that Princess Diana died and we had this fabulous day down at the Pleasure Beach, we went home, switched on the news and saw that. It stuck in my head as being at the hotel there.
“On a less serious note, what is so amazing are the audiences. They go there to have a good time. Without fail, we have a special night there.
“Northern audiences are genuinely my favourite. As you get further south in the country, they get a little more reserved. We feed off an audience and if they’re up for it, you give so much a better performance for them and it’s a two-way bit of traffic.”
Alfie agrees: “The audiences are spectacular at home, they really are. It’s such a fun night, they make the house rock - partly because it’s old! That balcony rocks up and down when people get going.”
Despite Alfie japing that the pair met in prison, they actually met as part of an English National Opera show called Kismet back in 2007, although Michael says that Alfie’s claims aren’t too far from the truth.
“It really was like prison, you get less for murder. It was not the greatest show to be part of but we just became mates. It sort of went on from there.”
Alongside the tour, the pair are also releasing an album - ‘Together’ - a collection of personal favourites from film and the greatest Broadway shows that both Alfie and Michael have always wanted to record.
One thing that strikes you upon listening to the album is how well their voices blend, despite being so drastically different.
“It’s amazing what they can do in the studio these days, there’s a little button to make Michael sound better!” Alfie jokes.
Michael retorts: “And we didn’t actually use Alfie’s voice at all!
“Do you know what, it was the easiest thing because we weren’t sure if the voices were going to blend but something does happen. When we’re singing together, it must be something sonic, to do with vibrato, to do with tone, that the voices complement each other.
“And what was really inspiring, is that the guys who did the arrangements - our producer, Nick Patrick - created these tracks that took us to another level and wanting to perform as well as they do. The Czech National Orchestra are extraordinary!
“And with the arrangements being so interesting, and clever, and witty made us want to bring our A-game to it. Also singing together, it’s not a competitiveness but we both want it to sound amazing. We both want to show off in the right way and it raised both our standards up. It was very exciting. “
The album, opens with a medley of songs from Les Miserables, something that seems quite fitting considering Alfie and Michael played Jean Valjean and Marius, respectively in different adaptations of the musical.
However Michael wasn’t completely sure about it at first: “I didn’t want to. Credit goes to Alfie, he’s not as stupid as people say he is!” Michael laughs.
“I wanted to open with something else and of all the things we’ve got on the album, that’s a magnificent piece of music. We worked with Claude-Michel Schönberg, who wrote Les Mis to help construct and blend the three songs.
“It’s what we’re both kind of known for but to have that so surprising, I don’t think people are going to expect the way it works together and it sets up the rest of the album perfectly.”
Michael and Alfie’s new album, ‘Together’ is out on Friday, November 4 and they are coming to Blackpool on tour on Wednesday, November 23.
Tale of the tape - Boe and Ball
Born on 29 September 1973, in Blackpool and was brought up in Fleetwood. He has released eight studio albums, with two going Platinum, two going Gold and one going Silver.
He appeared as Jean Valjean in the musical Les Misérables, playing the role in the Queen’s Theatre in London, the Les Misérables: 25th Anniversary Concert in October 2010, and in the Broadway revival.
He won a Tony Award as part of the ensemble of La bohème in 2003.
In 1999 and 2000, he was featured as the “opera dude” on albums by the Clint Boon Experience, led by the former organist of the Inspiral Carpets.
Born on 27 June 1962, in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.
Made his West End debut as Marius in the original London production of Les Misérables, in 1985.
Finished 2nd in Eurovision in 1992, with ‘One Step Out of Time’.
He has twice won the Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his roles in Hairspray and Sweeney Todd.
Was awarded an OBE in the 2015 Birthday Honours for his services to musical theatre.