Gig review: Michael Ball and Alfie Boe at First Direct Arena, Leeds
Last Friday's Leeds Arena audience may have spotted the similarity between the Boe and Ball moniker projected on the big screens with the Rolls-Royce logo with both considered similarly class British acts.
The two charismatic crooners in question, both stalwarts of mainstream UK musical theatre; combined effortlessly to provide an evening of quality entertainment, enthralling the packed Leeds Arena crowd.
Backed by an impressive 16-piece band, there was more than a nod to a big West End production, where both Boe and Ball have treaded the boards to critical acclaim over the years. This return visit to Leeds – part of their second UK tour largely promoting their new ‘Together Again’ album – took devoted fans and easy listening aficionados through a dream Radio 2 playlist and beyond.
Naturally both performers belted out their signature numbers, for Ball this included ‘Love Changes Everything’ together with a high energy display of ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’, Ball flying solo but performing it with the same vigour as when playing Edna Turnblad in Hairspray 20 years ago. Ball also earned the first standing ovation of the night with a mesmerising ‘Impossible Dream’. For Boe there was the always stirring Les Miserables medley, also bringing everyone to their feet.
The singers also paid fitting tributes to musical greats Stephen Sondheim and Rogers and Hammerstein with beautiful renditions of hits from West Side Story, Sweeney Todd and the romantic ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from South Pacific. There was also an uplifting performance of ‘He Lives in You’ from Lion King, before closing the first half with power ballad ‘You’re the voice’.
This show was much more than two musical greats cranking out all the hits and more – and boy can they crank! It was about a night of good old fashioned quality entertainment, sprinkled with a bit of old school showbiz glamour; whilst also forging a new enduring double act that perhaps could follow in the footsteps of Flanagan and Allen and with a will to not take themselves too seriously Boe and Ball could soon rival Ant and Dec in the celebrity bromance stakes.
It was perhaps without coincidence then that they paid tribute to perhaps the greatest entertainment partnership of them all, Morecambe and Wise with a song and dance rendition of ‘Bring Me Sunshine’. Boe by his own admission is playing the ‘straight man’ in the act, but as we saw on many occasions between songs he struggles to keep it together, in fact I would suggest that there should be reversal of roles as Boe, with his Northern roots, better comic timing with the dropping of the odd expletive should be the funny one – because he is.
It can’t have been lost on Boe that there was something amusing about asking the mainly 60-plus older audience to use the lights on their phones to accompany his haunting solo performance of ‘Run’. Many of those around me perhaps didn’t appreciate this amazing display from Boe as they were still trying to work out the torch function on their largely unused mobile phones long after the song had finished; Boe causing a frenzy by mingling with the crowd during the number, perhaps not so much to get up close with the fans but more to help those struggling to ‘swipe up’ to get their torch on.
Whichever role Boe and Ball do play it does work, there is the potential for mass appeal perhaps leading them to crack the under 60s market. Boe is perhaps the more interesting artist out of the two – he often had the leading edge when singing with Ball and in his solos which included an eclectic personal choice of Bob Dylan’s ‘Wagon Wheel’. Ball is undoubtedly a powerful musical machine but when duetting together, Boe reigns supreme but also reins in his operatic strength to be on a par with Ball.
And that par was brilliantly demonstrated with a fantastic Queen medley; Boe and Ball channelling their inner Mercurys, rewarded by full audience participation in ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Radio Ga Ga’. We were also treated to a delightfully unexpected Wham finale, both men revealing iconic 80s ‘Choose Life’ T-shirts and singing and dancing around to the classic pop floor fillers of ‘I’m Your Man’ and ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go, Go’.
With no musical genre appearing out of bounds to this high calibre pair it’s evident that they will be together again for quite a while to come, delighting audiences of all ages.