Ball and Boe’s Together Again tour started on Thursday in Cardiff and regular reviewer Carole Hunt was there for us:
Think you’ve heard it all from Messrs Ball and Boe over the past twelve months? Well, think again. They’re back and with it they are bigger, better, and bolder than ever before. Add the word ‘badder’ to that list in the best possible sense and you have the formula for a show with a gloriously long set list by two performers who have created something quite astonishing. They are more relaxed and their infectious love for their craft and performing in front of a live audience is abundantly clear.
The set is just about the same as previously, except for the back screen being one large element instead of split into three and the opening overture, played whilst Alfie and Michael begin in their familiar format of singing off stage, is accompanied by a plethora of photos of them including the selfies they took on stage at the end of each concert last winter and summer – so watch out for yourselves! As If We Never Said Goodbye opens the show followed by (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher, the latter being a surprise inclusion but got the audience in upbeat spirits from the start. Then, from the Together Again album – You’ll Be Back, Some Enchanted Evening, Evermore, Not While I’m Around and The Rose. A duet of Michael’s signature song Love Changes Everything was amusing and Alfie picks it up with effortless ease. I was thrilled to hear A Thousand Years still included in the set as it fast became one of my favourites last year, and Hero came next with He Lives In You. John Tonks’ solo on drums during the latter number was incredible and clearly enjoyed by them both, although I think Alfie was itching to take over! As the tempo increased on the song so did his energy levels and they didn’t look back for the rest of the show.
The second half began with a medley from West Side Story accompanied by graphics on the back screen evocative of the opening of the original film which set the tone beautifully. Bring Me Sunshine was gorgeous with the added delight of an unprepared dance routine that they had done at the Royal Variety show last week which brought giggles between them but was made even more endearing with it being less than perfect. Whether they will perfect it as the tour evolves I don’t know but there was something very captivating about it with the rough edges.
New York, New York was followed by one of many surprise inclusions and something totally inspired – a Queen medley. If there is one man who can come anywhere near to doing Freddie Mercury justice it’s Alfie and you can sense the joy he feels in singing those genius and powerful songs – It’s A Kind Of Magic, Radio Gaga, We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions. Rock star Alfie was unleashed, possibly onto a partly unsuspecting audience who were not so familiar with that side of him and “that nice man from Les Mis” filled the stage as only he can with epic vocals and boundless energy.
Their solo spots were a refreshing departure from what they had done in previous shows but still showcased their ability to perform yet more musical genres. Michael chose a tribute to David Bowie in Life on Mars and You Can’t Stop The Beat from his time in Hairspray. Alfie’s choices were unexpected – Wagon Wheel, a country song performed whilst he played the guitar and accompanied by a handful of musicians around him. The last time we saw him with a guitar in his hand was during the Storyteller tour 4 ½ years ago and I am happy to report that he has clearly worked very hard since then and appears very comfortable indeed. His choice of Tiny Dancer, an Elton John song , was inspired by hearing its original composer performing it on a grand piano in his back garden.
A new and updated medley from Les Miserables was as uplifting and emotional as it should be, given it is being performed by two of the most famous and formidable voices ever to be associated with arguably one of the best musicals ever written. The backing singers did a wonderful job with At the End of the Day, and Michael delivered an impassioned Stars before Alfie gave us a full length, towering Bring Him Home. Whilst Michael was performing Alfie sat in the half light off to one side preparing himself, no doubt getting into that ‘bubble’ that he talks about. The way that Michael in particular looks at Alfie when he is singing solo is fascinating and captivating to watch, he seems to be in total awe. A final blast of One Day More brought tears to my eyes.
The finale came with The Prayer , delivered with high emotion and passion and, unlike the CD recording, they went for the very big finish with Alfie hitting that note as only he can. But a finale is not a real finale with Ball and Boe these days until Michael has come back on alone, seemingly pleased that Alfie had gone so that he could sing A Different Corner, only to have him pop up behind him and both of them launching into – yes folks, they really did do it at last – a Wham medley. It was a joy to seem them on that stage just letting go and the entire audience were on their feet caught up with their infectious excitement and dynamism. Where else could you expect to see a Fellow of the Royal College of Music belting out Wham songs on top of a white grand piano?
It was a very special evening indeed and I have no doubt that the tour will evolve as it goes on, but the unpredictability and excitement of an opening night was one to savour. This may be the last we hear from Ball and Boe as a duo for a while and we are excited to hear where their individual paths will take them next, but ‘Together’ they certainly brought fun, sunshine and love to Cardiff.
Breathtaking review Carole – thank you so much!