Musicals

Will Barratt has been performing in London’s West End (Jersey Boys, Phantom, War of the Worlds, Producers) for a while now but he became someone to look out for amongst Alfie Boe fans when he understudied Alfie’s Billy Bigelow in ENO’s Carousel; he literally took over from Alfie half way through a show after Alfie came down with an ear infection.  Two more shows the next day followed, both to rave reviews. I interviewed Will after the end of the five week run and although he was quick to point out he had no expectation of performing the role, in the event that he did, said that “it was good to get on for a couple of shows together, like a preview and opening night in two shows”.  Additionally, Will said that although Alfie was sad to have to miss the show, he was “so pleased that I got on – he was dead happy for me”.  If you want to hear Will singing the soliloquy, click here for a pre-show talk and performance at ENO (soliloquy starts at 23m).

As Will’s only role in the production was to understudy Billy, I was keen to find out about the creative process and rehearsal period; how much was he involved?  It turns out that both Will and Molly Lynch, who understudied Katherine Jenkins as Julie, were as fully involved as Alfie and Katherine from day one.  Whoever plays the part, the blocking and direction is the same, it’s the thought processes of the actor that differs.  Will says that “Alfie, Katherine, Molly and I, we all got on, we worked through stuff together…Alfie was also going through the process of figuring out the role, he didn’t know what it was on day one either.  We were all doing it together”.

Now, you might be wondering about the headline of this piece – Confessions of a Justified Sinner.  This is the title of Will’s self penned debut album, released in 2015 and showcases his seemingly effortless talent for singing, playing multiple instruments and song writing.  Of the songs themselves, Will says that “all the songs on this album contain bits of me, my life, history, wants and needs, aches and pains, ups and downs…they are my confessions”.  He leaves it up to us as to whether he is a justified sinner or not!

Being self penned, this album is not what you might expect from a musical theatre performer – there are a few songs that wouldn’t be out of place in a musical but on the whole, the songs are a mix of upbeat, rockier, pop and jazz with a hint of Americana that really get you up and out of your seat.  To me, a great song is one that you instantly sing along to or you can’t sit still to and both the opening track, Give Me Some Time and Demon, towards the end, had me up and dancing straight away.  These two songs, together with Fearless (below), a beautiful ballad and the almost Buble-esque Never Thought, are my favourite songs.  Interestingly, Give Me Some Time and Never Thought are songs originally written when Will was at school, just reworked and rearranged to give a more sophisticated sound.

Will’s fabulous voice handles all these styles with great versatility and is a joy to listen to.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner is available here:

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We’ve done it, we’ve counted down to the 2017 Best Ever Alfie Boe song so let’s take a look at the top ten so far:

10 – Parlami D’amore Mariu

9 – In My Daughter’s Eyes

8 – Wheels of a Dream

7 – Forever Young

6 – Anthem

5 – Addio Sogni Di Gloria

4 – Keep Me In Your Heart

3 – Love Reign O’er Me

2 – Rank Strangers

And so that leaves only one song at the top and it’s no surprise that after two years at number four, Bring Him Home returns to the top:

This was the first time I heard Alfie sing Bring Him Home live.

Bring Him Home, is without question Alfie’s most popular and famous song.  The vast majority of fans who have come to know Alfie since 2010 (myself included) have done so through Les Miserables, Jean Val Jean and Bring Him Home – Alfie’s star really was born at the 25th anniversary concert.  Everything that has come since started on that day and ensures that Alfie will continue to sing Bring Him Home for as long as the demand is there…forever!  Of course the problem with this is I find it really difficult to write anything at all about Bring Him Home.   So, instead of my thoughts, let’s go back to what Alfie said about it in his autobiography:

It is such a spiritual song, it’s so special.  When Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil wrote it they must have been so excited…It is a prayer, it’s actually called The Prayer, it’s not officially called Bring Him Home and I treat it as such every time I sing it.  I pray.  That’s what makes it work.

Interestingly, when I interviewed Alfie for the Club 24601 series in 2015, although he mentioned Bring Him Home as being a great song, he actually picked the Soliloquy as the song with the greatest emotional and vocal range.

Thank you for sending in your suggestions and voting – I love seeing the different songs that make it into the top ten each year.  Enjoy the summer concerts – click here if you haven’t yet got a ticket.

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Stranger in Paradise on Parkinson:

This is of course from Kismet, the much mocked (by Michael Ball and Alfie at least) production at ENO where Alfie and Michael first met.  Now, I happened to watch this performance on Parkinson and liked the song and the singer but that was it – certainly, I didn’t have the same reaction as when first hearing Alfie as Jean Valjean.

Kismet first appeared as a musical in 1953 before making it’s way to London a couple of years later.  Stranger in Paradise is the most famous song from the show, certainly in the UK and in 1955 there were six versions of the song in the UK chart, Tony Bennett being the one to hit the top spot.  Since then, the song has been recorded by more artists than we’ve all had hot dinners but I can’t find one I like better than Alfie.

The summer tour is almost upon us so if you want to review one of the shows (Hampton Court and Greenwich are taken) please fill in the form:

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Recently returned from Cape Town where he created the role of John Crichton-Stuart in the new musical Tiger Bay, a role written especially for him no less, John Owen-Jones tomorrow releases a compilation album, Bring Him Home.  A mix of musical theatre songs taken from three previous albums,  John Owen-Jones (2009, Unmasked (2012) and Rise (2015), there are also three new tracks to delight fans: Maria, Why God Why and Suddenly.  In addition to this, John is soon to embark on a short solo tour of Wales – click here for dates and venues.  All in all, with Tiger Bay moving to Cardiff in November and a trip stateside in September, 2017 is shaping up to be a busy year for John.

Given his super busy schedule, it was a delight to catch up with John over coffee this week to talk about the new album although of course, you’ll forgive us if we strayed onto all things Les Mis.  Like Alfie, it was through Les Mis that I first became aware of John – the Valjean Quartet at the 25th concert to be precise.  Talking about that incredible moment where Alfie first starts singing, John says that “being in the room when we first rehearsed that and everyone’s hair was blow off when Alfie hit that top note”.  Lovely to hear that the other Valjean’s thought that as it’s the same for most of us too.  As for Alfie, Les Mis is the show in which John first rose to prominence; at 26 he was the youngest actor to play Valjean.  He says of this time on Broadway that “I was very lucky at 26 that I had the chance to play Jean Valjean and I grabbed it with both hands”.   Since then he has returned to the role several times, most recently on Broadway again and for a short run in Dubai and doesn’t rule out another stint in the future “if the opportunity is there again, why not?”

Of the three new tracks on Bring Him Home, one is related to Les Mis and that is Suddenly, the song that was added to the movie version and as yet, has not been recorded by many people.  As such, it sounds fresh and exciting which is no mean feat for a song from a thirty year old musical that everyone is familiar with.  In understated style, John calls the song ” a nice little tune” and it fits in perfectly with the theme of this album which draws heavily on John’s roles with both Les Mis and Phantom, both of which are huge in Japan.  John has played several sell out shows there and in once concert last year, John says that the audience refused to leave the auditorium until he came back for a further encore – the musical director came back on stage without shoes and socks!

As for the other new tracks, Maria was chosen as West Side Story was the first show in which John was ever on stage and is a song he’s always wanted to record as a result.  Apparently it took him this long to actually do it because his mum’s not keen on the song but “she can skip that one”.  Great choice of song – despite there being many versions of this song out there, John’s acting ability enables him to bring an emotional depth that is not always heard.  Similarly personal, Why God Why from Miss Saigon was the song John performed at his audition for drama school and is a song that he has performed live for a long time.

As mentioned earlier, next week sees John embark on a short solo tour of Wales and he says that the set list will consist of mainly musical theatre songs with one or two others in the mix as well.  A number of local choirs will be joining John, not to mention Rhys Meirion in Rhyl and other guest artists.  Sounds fantastic!

Bring Him Home is released on Sain Records on 9 June and is available here:

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Welcome to the fourth in the occasional series celebrating Six Sensational Songs from Alfie Boe – each post features six songs chosen by a thoughtsofjustafan reader and this time it’s the turn of Sheila Currie.  Sheila first became an Alfie fan after seeing him in Les Mis on PBS and recently saw him in concert in New York, also having the opportunity to wish him well before the concert!  Sheila says about Alfie:

I could pick many more than six songs, certainly. Alfie Boe is someone who will not pass this way again in my lifetime. His voice goes in my ear directly to my heart.

Here we go with Sheila’s songs:

A Living Prayer, also chosen by Betty Valentine, was chosen by Sheila because “this was on the first CD I bought of Alfie’s after his Les Mis performance on PBS. I loved the video especially. He takes this song of Alison Krause to a hymn like quality.”

If I Loved You, from Carousel – this one might be very popular amongst Alfie fans these days!  Sheila says “I sang this song growing up in school choir and it just pulls at my heartstrings.”

Bridge Over Troubled Water was chosen by Sheila as it ” reminded me of my early married life during Vietnam era. I loved it then just as much”.

Forever Young, chosen  because “Alfie’s reworking of this Dylan song to remind us of those who have sacrificed for us was incredible, especially the PBS Memorial Day concert”.

Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna, also chosen by Betty Valentine, was chosen by Sheila  because “this beautiful song reminds me of my voice teacher and her passion for Italian opera”.

Where’er You Walk.  As Sheila says “An old song but I can still sing it as if it was just yesterday.

Thank you Sheila for sharing your six sensational songs with us.

If you would like to see your favourite songs featured here, complete the form below, telling me your six songs and why they are your favourites.  

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For one night only, Alfie Boe and Michael Ball played to a US audience in New York City.  Our NYC reporter, Roberta Kappus was on hand and kindly sent this review:

After a four and a half month hiatus from the Together tour, Alfie Boe joined Michael Ball last night for the only US performance of this UK sellout show. Alfie’s return to the stage was as though he had never left. It was a show and performance worthy of Broadway. The singing was priceless, the dancing precisely synchronised  and the overall evening just amazing.

Alfie’s versatility and talent were on display throughout the show from the opening song of Somewhere to the closing song of New York, New York which was greatly appreciated by the New Yorkers in the audience and by the sound of the applause by many others. In between there was a full array of songs running from the classic Les Mis medley to Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds, a personal favourite, to Love Reign O’er Me, another favourite.  Two more additions to the UK set list were Anthem and Luck Be A Lady Tonight.  All were brilliant additions – if some songs were dropped I could not name them. Through the magic of Alfie’s voice I was just transported from one enthralling song to another during this incredible evening. There were numerous standing ovations, amongst them Anthem, Love Reign O’er Me, and the Les Mis medley.

Throughout the show Alfie was totally relaxed, very comfortable in his role as singer and entertainer and very much enjoying himself. Towards the beginning of Love Reign O’er Me there was a problem with the piano which Alfie noticed instantly. As technicians rushed onto the stage Alfie very comfortably went into several minutes of comedic ad libbing. Alfie was so successful in distracting the audience that several people around me thought it was part of the act. To me it was another example of Alfie’s assurance as an entertainer in capturing and holding the audience’s attention regardless of circumstances.

Anyone who had not previously seen this show would not have noticed that some of the comedic moments had been dropped. However the poor woman leaving for the ladies’ room was spotted and asked why she had not gone before the show by Alfie.  Alfie’s trouble mounting the chair and Michael’s assistance in the first act was replaced by Alfie simply sliding off a stool. However Michael’s praise of Alfie had Alfie running back onto the stage to give Michael a big kiss on the cheek to much laughter.

The show took place just 24 hours after the Manchester attack and before the show began, a moment of silence was observed.  Another sombre moment was acknowledged during the Bond medley when Sir Roger Moore’s (who passed away yesterday) photo was shown.

It was truly lovely to have Alfie in New York again. He more than lived up to the expectations I had from seeing Together in the UK. I was not alone as the audience showed its appreciation through numerous standing ovations. For me Alfie’s versatility as a singer, actor and entertainer was highlighted by the fact that I had just seen him ten days ago in English National Opera’s Carousel. I am still overwhelmed by the transition I witnessed from Billy Bigelow to Alfie Boe. What an evening to remember. Thank you, Alfie Boe and please come back.

Thank you Roberta for a truly wonderful review – New York, New York was the perfect song to end with.

Together is available here:

Click here to buy tickets for their Summer and Winter UK tour dates.

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The ride on the ENO Carousel with Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins is over and despite the sadness that it’s over, I’m left with an overwhelmingly lovely bunch of memories from these five weeks; Alfie was on top form as Billy Bigelow, I’ve had some fantastic stage door experiences and best of all, I got to share it with fabulous friends.  It also seems that Alfie thoroughly enjoyed the experience, judging from Instagram:

The role of Billy Bigelow will remain with me for the rest of my life. Thank you to all who helped me channel this complex character. I love bringing role to life but as a performer, we must remember “You’ll never be bigger than the show you’re in.” And my favourite line in the show is “Don’t be scared of people who don’t like you, just try liking them!” Love to you all.

Great choice of favourite line Alfie – perfectly demonstrates the overall theme of Carousel, redemption.  Thinking back over the shows I’ve seen, I think it is the story of redemption that will stay with me as much as the nuanced performance that Alfie gave, especially the further the run went on.  Alfie’s vocals were of course immaculate, that was never in doubt, but to see the subtle changes in his performance was something special and showed he really understood the flawed character he was portraying.  I’m really hoping that this is not the last time we see Alfie in a musical or even, a return to an operatic role.

Now, the competition winners! To celebrate both Carousel and thoughtsofjustafan’s third birthday, I’ve got five signed Carousel programmes to give away and the five lucky winners who knew that Alfie recorded Barcelona with Katherine in 2014 are:

Rhonda Greenwood

Pat Davies

Simmi Parkinson

Hazel Mackel

Jo Sorsby

Congratulations – send me your address details and I’ll get them sent out.  Here are Alfie and Katherine singing Barcelona in Edinburgh:

Alfie can next be seen at the New York City Center on May 23rd  – performing with Michael Ball, for one night only – click here to get your tickets now.

I’ll finish with one of my favourite moments from these five weeks – forgive the indulgence!

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Number six of the 2017 Best Ever Alfie Boe Song is the only song from Alfie’s 2016 collaboration with Michael Ball, Together:

Anthem did not feature on the set list for the live shows but obviously made an impression on fans – I know that many fans have wanted Alfie to record the song for a long time.

Anthem is one of the most famous songs (although for me, I have more of an affection for the Elaine Paige / Barbara Dickson song I Know Him So Well) from the Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus musical, Chess, which opened in London in 1986 before closing three years later.  A subsequent Broadway production was much less successful.  Prior to either show, a concept album was released, from which Paige and Dickson’s recording derives as Dickson was unable to open in the London production.  The other leads, Paige, Tommy Korberg and Murray Head all appeared; Anthem is sung by Korberg’s character.

The song has become a musical theatre standard and has been recorded by many artists, usually male, but here it is with a female voice, Kerry Ellis, who recorded Come What May with Alfie a few years ago:

I’m thinking that Alfie would love this rockier version with Brian May on guitar!

Next week we’ll be half way to the top!

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As a leading lady of both London’s West End and Broadway, Rachel Tucker is used to being centre stage but always as part of an ensemble, never before as a solo artist.  All that is set to change however, with a thirteen date solo tour around the UK beginning in her home town of Belfast on 13 May.  The first date sold out quickly which was, as Rachel said when I interviewed her a month ago, “a real thrill…I don’t get back often so it’s great how quick the tickets went”.

Rachel is probably best known for long running roles in Wicked, having risen to fame as a finalist on the BBC One show I’d Do Anything, subsequently performing at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Birthday In The Park show in London’s Hyde Park and later taking on a range of roles in some of the West End’s best shows, before making her Broadway debut in The Last Ship, a new musical written by the rock icon Sting.

As an established musical theatre star, I was keen to find out if Rachel’s set list would mostly consist of songs from that genre.  Not necessarily so, although Rachel says she was “brought up on old classic Hollywood, Gene Kelly type musicals so there will be some musical songs there”.  Rachel went on to say that her own taste is rather more eclectic, a mixture of classic jazz, soul and pop and hopes that at least half the finished set list will be upbeat jazz and soul.  It transpires that in preparation for this tour, Rachel has been listening to a lot of music which might not be a surprise for a singer but in fact, she say she doesn’t listen to much music outside the theatre as it’s her job (I totally get that – reviewing music sometimes leaves me in a position to say no more).  Choosing a set list seems to be something less than a walk in the park too; Rachel said that she “didn’t realise how hard it would be.  After four weeks rehearsal we only just got to the point where we decided what the songs should be and in what order.  Some songs are amazing but don’t work amongst the rest of the set and we’re having some guest artists so in some shows the set list will be different”. Those recently announced as guests are Oliver Tompsett (Horsham and Live at Zedel), Samantha Barks (Live at Zedel) and fellow Wicked star Louise Dearman (Bury St. Edmunds).

As this is Rachel’s first excursion into a show where the emphasis is all on her solo performance, I was intrigued to find out how she would deal with possible nerves. Although pressure as a solo performer was mentioned, Rachel was quick to say that doing her own music was “much more satisfying, more thrilling as an artist” as opposed to being part of a show.  Additionally, Rachel thought she would feel more nervous than when part of a show, one reason being that in a lot of the venues, the stage is very close to the audience.  Having said that, Rachel has been singing in such places since she was a child and says that it makes it easier to “look the audience in the eye and tell a story”.

Rachel Tucker’s tour starts in Belfast on May 13 and continues until June 10 in Birmingham – click here for dates and tickets.

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Three weeks until Alfie Boe and Michael Ball take to the stage of the New York City Center for their one and only US concert! May 23 is the date that US fans will have the chance to hear songs taken from the duo’s chart topping album, Together and here’s what they had to say about it:

Tickets are available by clicking here and if you want to make it extra special, why not book a VIP experience that gets you up close and personal in a meet and greet? Click here for VIP packages.

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plus the chance to win two signed Carousel programmes!