Les Mis Broadway

All posts tagged Les Mis Broadway

Monday 13 November sees new musical Tiger Bay, open in Cardiff at the Wales Millennium Centre.  Set in the early 1900’s, the show tells the story of poverty and wealth in Cardiff’s Butetown through one young woman, played by Vicky Bebb.  Welsh musical star John Owen-Jones plays John Stuart, Third Marquess of Bute in a role written for him.

When I spoke to him earlier this year around the release of his compilation album, Bring Him Home, John said that to have a part written for him was “a long held dream”.  With Tiger Bay, John also had the opportunity to be involved in a new musical right from the beginning as the show initially premiered in Cape Town in March / April this year.  This  experience was different to other shows that John’s been it was “more like a long workshop with rewrites and changes” as opposed to slotting into a long running show.

One such long running show was Les Miserables, where he most recently took over from Alfie Boe on Broadway.  John enjoys a good relationship with Alfie and joked about Alfie and Ramin Karimloo (Jean Valjean before Alfie) that “they did what I originally did and then I went and showed them how it was supposed to be done.”  Click here for our Les Miz Broadway reviews to see if you agree!

Whilst on the topic of Alfie (John knowing Alfie and me writing this blog, talking about Alfie was inevitable) we talked about the infamous night at the Royal Albert Hall when Alfie pulled John up onto the stage to sing Bring Him Home.  Of that night, John said “I wished I hadn’t had two pints of lager but it was absolutely unplanned and terrifying but perhaps the beer was helpful.  I couldn’t believe Alfie had the balls to do that.”  That was my very first Alfie concert and because of that magical moment, one of the most memorable:

John, of course, also starred in another iconic long running show, Phantom of the Opera as well as a recent short revival of The Wild Party.  When asked, John’s dream roles include Sweeney Todd, George in the Park, Man of La Mancha, Into the Woods and Company.

Tiger Bay opens on 13 November – click here for tickets.

John’s latest album, Bring Him Home is available here:

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Tuesday 1 March saw the first night of John Owen-Jones as Jean Valjean in Broadway’s Les Mis.  As with the first nights of the previous incumbents of the role, our intrepid New York reporter, Roberta Kappus was there and I’m thrilled to bring you her review:

Years of experience on the stage were in evidence  as John Owen-Jones took over the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway. From an unrepentant convict to a dying old man, John Owen-Jones gave a masterful performance conveying  feelings and emotions flawlessly.  By a shrug of a shoulder or an added inflection on a word John changed the focus of a scene. From the beginning his skills were apparent.

On his first day of freedom when Valjean drinks from a stream you can see and feel  his sensation of release and satisfaction at the cool taste of the water. He pauses and savours both the freedom and the water and lets you feel it with him.  Most impressive was Who Am I.  John doesn’t just struggle with the question of turning himself in as another has been mistakenly identified as JVJ but  conveys the life and death consequences of his decision and includes the audience in the process. The closest I could come to this portrayal was seeing JVJ as an attorney who strongly believes in his client’s case and the audience is his jury. He strides back and forth across the front of the stage facing the audience, stretching out his arms as though to embrace the audience. It is very effective and as an audience member you feel involved.

Another striking element in his performance is the aging of JVJ. This starts almost at the beginning when he rescues the man from the runaway cart. It is not an easy task and John is winded and out of breath following the rescue. It continues through his first scene in Paris where he is no longer strong enough to fend off the thugs. In his scenes at home with Cosette his shoulders are rounded and his stride is no longer as strong and sure as in the beginning. The aging continues through his final scene when he is truly a feeble, old man. After the show I went back and read the interview with John on this blog (click here). John described his interpretation of the aging exactly as he acted it. It was masterful and no doubt came from John’s years of experience.

Les Mis is a show that is sung throughout and John does not disappoint. I almost feel as though I do not have to say anything about his singing since he is so well known through his albums and YouTube. He was excellent and his singing appeared to be effortless. Throughout he changed the impact of a line in a song by an added inflection on a word. His Bring Him Home was not only sung but also acted. His hands were clasped in prayer as he pleaded with God. He directed God’s gaze to Marius as though God was a presence on the stage.  The acting definitely strengthened the emotional impact of the song.

I have been fortunate enough to see three Jean Valjeans over the last few months – Ramin Karimloo, Alfie Boe and John Owen-Jones. Each brings his own interpretation to the role and emphasises his strengths. Each makes Les Mis his own story and each has been worth seeing.  If you have the chance, you should see John Owen-Jones in the role.

Yet another fabulous review, Roberta – thank you.  As it has been your privilege to see these three performers, it has been my pleasure and privilege to publish such gifted reviews from you.

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So, with news of Alfie’s next move (I understand the final agreements are being ironed out this week) in our minds, today it’s time to think about Les Mis.  There are just a handful of performances left to catch Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, so it’s competition time!

The prize is a signed Les Mis playbill, a Les Mis programme (featuring Alfie), a New York City Guide featuring Alfie on the cover and a signed photo.  I’ll even throw in a stick of Classic Quadrophenia rock!

To be in with a chance of winning all you need to do is answer the following question:

How many productions of Les Mis has Alfie Boe appeared in?

Competition now closed

To be in with a chance of winning you will need to be subscribed to this blog – so do it now!

A winner will be picked at random on Saturday 27 February – good luck!

alfie les mis

To help you think, here is the next Broadway Jean Valjean, John Owen-Jones (thanks to Linda for sharing):

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When you book to see a musical do you book to see the show or the cast?  Personally, I do both – if I want to see a particular show I book it regardless of the cast but on the other hand, I do sometimes book a show just to see a particular actor or singer.  Having said that, I have passed up the chance to see actors I like if the show they’re in is not really my cup of tea.  I recently booked to see Phantom of the Opera for the first time on the strength of John Owen-Jones’ return and while John was fabulous, I now know why I waited 29 years to see the show.  Needless to say I’m not fussed about seeing it again.  I would much rather wait to see him in a show I love.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, in recent months, ever since Alfie Boe has been in Les Mis on Broadway, this topic has become a bit of a hot potato so after much thought, this blog post is my take on the issue.

When you book a musical what are you booking to see?  What does that booking guarantee you?  A theatre ticket guarantees that you will have a seat (some better than others) to see that particular show at that particular performance.  That is all it guarantees you, nothing else.  Unlike a ticket for a concert, it does not guarantee that your favourite cast member will be performing either, even if you have checked all the information available every minute until you get to the theatre.  It does not guarantee that you will enjoy the performance of every actor or even the show itself and it also does not guarantee that you will have the chance to thank the cast for their performance afterwards.

Of course, we all want to see our favourite actors and singers in a show and it can be devastating to find out, often at short notice where illness is concerned, that we won’t see them perform.  Considering the price of theatre tickets (especially the better seats) last minute cancellations can be particularly annoying.  Factor in travel costs as well as the cost of seeing a show can be incredibly high.  However, it isn’t the star that we are paying to see, it’s the whole show and there’s the difference.  The show will go on, to coin a phrase, and all the other cast members and musicians will still give the best performance they can.  In my view, it is insulting to those performers to be told that their performance does not matter to a considerable number of the audience, which is the implication every time someone says their evening or even their entire trip has been ruined because the star is not there.

Obviously, as this is a fan site for Alfie Boe, I’m mostly talking about Les Mis in New York; to my mind, some of the enjoyment at hearing reports from New York and of seeing audiences react to the might and power of Alfie’s JVJ has been lessened by the comments from disappointed theatre goers at not seeing him perform on occasions.  With a few exceptions, Alfie’s rest days have been posted online well in advance and are largely no different to the number of rest days / performances enjoyed by the previous JVJ, Ramin Karimloo.

Of course, this discussion is old hat to those fans who were fans when Alfie played JVJ in the West End – there were a number of unplanned absences due to illness in that run and feelings ran quite high amongst disgruntled fans at the time.  During that run, many fans came from far afield to see Alfie in Les Mis and for them, it was devastating to find out that Alfie could not perform due to illness.  The same applies now with many UK fans travelling to New York to see Alfie.   If you are travelling a short distance to see the show, it’s not so much of a problem as you can probably arrange to go again and hope for better luck next time.  However, when you are travelling a very long way and the trip amounts to a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience then you would undoubtedly feel very differently about short notice cast changes.  In that case, perhaps the discussion should focus on the following question: Are you booking that ‘once in a lifetime’ trip for the trip or for the possibility of seeing your favourite star perform?  One of these answers certainly lends itself to a greater possibility of disappointment.

Reading this back again, I think it’s clear what my opinion of this thorny subject is! I should also make it clear that I have not been to see Les Mis in New York and so have not had to face any disappointment.  If anyone has had this happen and saw the understudy instead of Alfie, I’d love to know how that influenced your whole experience of the show.  Also, this gives us the perfect opportunity to talk about stage door experiences; should we expect the star of the show to come out after every performance?

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Last night, 1 September, saw the hotly anticipated first night of Alfie Boe’s run in the Broadway production of Les Mis.  Alfie’s previous incarnation as Jean Valjean in London four years ago led to a frenzy of speculation about his possible involvement when the show’s revival was announced a couple of years later; this frenzy dampened slightly when the role went to Ramin Karimloo but never really went away, hence the levels of excitement when it was announced earlier this year that Alfie would take over from Ramin.

Many Alfie fans are going to see him in New York (click here for his current schedule), probably booking to see the show several times, and one such fan was there last night.  Roberta reviewed Les Mis for thoughtsofjustafan when it first opened and she has been kind enough to review Alfie’s first night for us:

Perfection or as close as you can humanly come to perfection is the only way to describe Alfie Boe’s opening night performance in Les Mis Broadway. Alfie seemed a little bit nervous at the very beginning but that quickly passed. When he first came on stage I was very conscious that I was seeing Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean and that in itself was exciting but that quickly passed; at the end of the show I realised that at some point (I think when Alfie made his first appearance as mayor) I was no longer thinking in those terms. Instead I was watching Jean Valjean and not someone playing JVJ. It was an incredible performance.
Of course I expected the singing to be extraordinary and Alfie did not disappoint. He nailed every song and received a standing ovation for Bring Him Home. What took me by surprise was the absolutely brilliant acting. I was lucky enough to have front row seats and could see every expression crossing his face and there were many. From the anger at the injustice of his imprisonment to the tenderness displayed in the scene when he takes Cosette away. This scene touched me the most. Alfie was truly a father looking at his daughter and rejoicing in the life that would now be theirs. When he picked her up it was not just to dance with her. He tossed her in the air twice and caught her both times. And the expression on Alfie’s face can only be described as a father looking with great love at his daughter. I wish I could have filmed that and replayed it here. It has to be seen.
Alfie received a well deserved standing ovation at the end. He blew a kiss to the audience, heaved a sigh of relief, struck his chest 3 times in appreciation and then collapsed to his knees.
Thank you for that wonderful review Roberta.  Twitter has been awash with compliments – it’s fair to say that all of them were of the same opinion as Roberta.  Amongst the many tweets were photos of Alfie at the stage door with fans and my favourite is from Carla, who looks absolutely delighted to be there:
alfie carla
and here is Alfie in the white shirt!
alfie les mis
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You don’t get to win Alfie, I’m not that good to you!  However, an Alfie Boe goodie bundle, including the Storyteller DVD, is up for grabs.

All you have to do is subscribe to this blog – just sign up on the right – and then answer the following question correctly:

How many albums has Alfie Boe released in the UK?

(clue: not including guest appearances!)

Just to let you know that this competition is only open to UK residents – sorry!

Tonight is Alfie’s opening performance in Les Mis Broadway so to everyone going – enjoy!

Break a leg Alfie x

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Recently, I have been listening to the upcoming orchestral version of Pete Townshend’s Quadrophenia before reviewing it here in the run up to the album release in June.  It sounds fabulous, especially the vocals which sound as if they were recorded from a live performance and not in the studio (even though they were) and I discussed this with Alfie when I interviewed him this week.

The interview actually started with both of us saying “hello”, “hello, can you hear me” type of thing as he was on the move and I was sitting in the playground of my son’s school.  I was there to do some fundraising for the specialist music education required by the National Curriculum; as Alfie is well aware, given his recent comments on the state of music education in the UK, schools legally have to provide music education but are given no funding.  This often means that music education is not as healthy as it should be.   The conversation then turned to Nordoff Robbins and the music therapy and rehabilitation programmes they run which also have no central government funding at all.  Alfie would like to see some funding set aside to subsidise the therapies available but doesn’t seem too confident that this will actually happen.

Now, as we were there to talk about Classic Quadrophenia, I started by asking how long he had been involved with the project as it was only about six months ago that the fans became aware of his participation.  Alfie said that he came on board about “a year ago.  I was asked to go and sing for Pete, to see if I had the right sound for the project”.  Obviously, the answer was a resounding yes and Alfie went on to spend two days in the studio with the orchestra.  The vocals heard on the album were then recorded in Pete Townshend’s own studio in (Alfie’s words) “a good few hours.  The sound is almost like a live recording of my vocals as it was really flowing, we were really in the groove”.  I asked Alfie how difficult it was to sing and although some parts are trickier than others, the most difficult for him was getting the emotional intensity right.  “It’s an emotional piece and you have to understand what you are singing and the emotional intent behind it and then you’re alright”.  I should say that he’s got the emotional intensity spot on as it’s a very powerful album.  Look out for the review in the next couple of weeks.

Although this was a brief phone interview, I did ask about Les Mis on Broadway , telling him that my readers would never forgive me if I didn’t ask about that!  (That got a chuckle and he’s clearly thrilled by all the good wishes sent his way).  Alfie said that he has always been interested in doing Broadway as it would finish off his Jean ValJean story nicely – 25th anniversary concert, West End run and then Broadway.  When asked why now, his answer was that it’s all down to timing.  It wasn’t the right time before but it is now – simple as that.  Oh, and he mentioned that he is scheduled to be performing in the show until February but please do check the website as there are some dates he’s not doing.  Incidentally, he won’t be in the show for these dates as he’s doing Classic Quadrophenia elsewhere:

13 October – Cologne

26 October – Munich

31 October – Vienna

Click here for tickets.

There might be more news but I can’t tell you about it yet!  In the meantime, here’s Alfie singing Love Reign O’er Me on his recent UK tour:

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And it’s a lucky 13th for Alfie Boe’s US fans – now we know that the gap in Alfie’s schedule later this year is because he’s returning to Les Mis…on Broadway!  His first performance is 1 September, following Ramin Karimloo’s departure on 30 August.  Anyone from the UK made travel plans yet?

Also, this week, we saw another video from Pete Townshend promoting the forthcoming Classic Quadrophenia – although we see Alfie briefly, we also hear him all the way through:

Lastly, Alfie was in the news following an interview he gave at the Nordoff Robbins choir event a few weeks ago, regarding music education in the UK.  As befits a newly appointed patron of the BD Music Hub, Alfie talked about the need for more investment in music education in the UK.  As it happens, I know a fair amount about this very subject as I am currently heavily involved in raising funds for specialist music education at my son’s primary school.  The national curriculum requires all schools to provide music education but does not give them any money with which to provide this education.  Hence my son’s school pledges to raise £15,000 each year to fund a part time specialist teacher – it’s hard work so anyone highlighting this issue gets a big thank you from me!  Click here to read the article.

Don’t forget to watch Alfie at the VE 70 celebrations tomorrow evening – 8.30pm UK time!

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