Tuesday, June 5, 2012

cd review ALFIE BOE, "Alfie"

It's been awhile since there's been an artist who's successfully made the crossover from Classical music to Musical Theatre and Pop Stardom.  English Tenor Alfie Boe might just be the next performer to make that leap.  Though it is far too early to see if he will have the success that other crossover artists like The Three Tenors had, Boe, who doesn't have as extensive an opera background as those other famous three tenors had, does already have some impressive credits. 

Boe has appeared in several operas as well as alternated as "Rodolfo" in Baz Luhrmanns' 2002 Broadway production of La Boheme.  He and his fellow cast mates received a special Tony award for their appearance in that production and thousands of people saw his performance as Jean Valjean in the 25th Anniversary concert performance of Les Miserables.  That concert was released on dvd and cd as well as broadcast on PBS stations across the US.  His performance of Valjean received high marks and Boe also played the role for a stint in the London run of the show. 

His latest solo cd "Alfie" is making it's US debut today after premiering in the UK last Fall in a slightly different version.  This month also sees a concert dvd release from Boe that will also be aired on PBS Stations throughout June.

The cd features 14 tracks.  It is an interesting yet eclectic mix of songs featuring some standards, several show tunes and a couple of soft pop hits from the 70's.  Overall it is an enjoyable mix that will appeal to his Les Mis fans as well as those who've seen him in his opera, concert and tv appearances.  Some downsides of the cd relate to Boe's diction and wording. You would sometimes think that Boe wasn't English born with the way that some of the words sound.  In fact, many times he sounds as if he's Italian and English is his second language.  I'm not certain if that is due to his opera training or what.   And while it never detracts from the overall outcome of the cd, it is something that Boe should focus on to gain more mass acclaim.

The cd starts off with "When I Fall in Love" which features a softly stated delivery of this well known song.  Boe's "Maria" from West Side Story is a stirring rendition of the song with Boe hitting and holding the high notes to great effect.  He perfectly gets the joy and excitement of the lyrics and music of the song as well as lovingly finds the quiet, serious moments as well.

"When You Wish Upon a Star" from the movie Pinocchio starts off a little rocky but Boe manages to sell the song and delivers a lovely ending as well.  "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is a song that will forever be associated with Roberta Flack but Boe manages to hold his own and the arrangement for the song adds a nice element of emotion that compliments Boe's delivery of the lyrics.

Boe's forceful rendition of "It Was A Very Good Year" makes this song one of the highlights of the recording. It also has an excellent arrangement that soars in the right places but is also soft and quiet exactly when needed.  The use of strings is lovely. Boe perfectly gets across the message of the song, especially the last verse when he's in "the autumn" of his years, which is interesting considering he isn't even 40. 

Stephen Sondheim's "Being Alive" from Company receives a different arrangement than we've usually heard on the many other recordings this song has received.  Boe excels at hitting the emotional moments of the song and delivers an excellent ending note as well.  Martina McBride's "In My Daughter's Eyes" is the most recent song on this recording.  Boe delivers a touching version of the song, no doubt due to the fact that Boe has a young daughter. 

The next track is "Music of the Night" from Phantom Of The Opera and for a song that has been recorded many times it is nice to hear a different arrangement from what we're used to hearing with the excellent addition of a choir at the end.  It is also nice to hear an "operatic" voice on this song which works perfectly since the musical is set in an opera house.  Based on this version of the song I can safely say that Boe would make an excellent "Phantom" and be a welcome addition to either the Broadway or London productions of the show.

The Gershwin classic "Someone to Watch Over Me" is the only song that Boe doesn't seem to quite get the meaning of.  It might just be that an operatic voice doesn't easily fit with the simple lyric structure and light romantic yearning touch required.  Boe seems to be hitting every beat and note exactly as required in the sheet music which is what detracts from the song. It is more of a "scripted" delivery of the song instead of a real and personable one.  Fortunately it is the only song like that on the cd. 

"Who Am I" from Les Miserables is a song that Boe has sung many times and he perfectly delivers the meaning of the lyrics a well as hitting the correct emotional notes required.  On "Wheels of a Dream" from Ragtime, Boe's voice fits perfectly with the lyrics and soars throughout.  It is nice that for this song the arrangement is very close to the original Broadway one.  Though this version features the perfect addition of a choir at the end.  "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables is probably the one song that more people have heard Boe sing than any other song.  He nails it.

The recording also features two duets.  Rock legend Robert Plant joins Alfie on Tim Buckley's 70's hit "Song to the Siren" and Plant's voice is a nice compliment to Boe's.  When the two of them sing together it truly compliments the lyrics and message of the song.  "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" from Les Miserables features Boe with his Les Mis concert mate Nick Jonas on a lovely duet of the song.  Though Jonas is just a little stiff on the song, Boe's voice soars and when the two of them join together it is simply stirring.  On the UK release of the cd original "Marius" Michael Ball joined Boe on the duet.  I'm assuming the change to Jonas was to hopefully add an American name to the recording to stir some additional interest on this side of the Atlantic.

The UK release of the cd has a slightly different track order and also includes Boe singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as well as "Over the Hills and Far Away."  However the UK release doesn't include "Bring Him Home."  The cd features top notch technical skills throughout including some beautifully lush arrangements.  In fact, there isn't one arrangement that doesn't add to the song it is accompanying.

Boe may not be a household name just yet, but with this cd, his PBS concert set to air throughout June and an upcoming US tour in the Fall, he is doing what he needs to get his name and his voice out there.   This cd is a perfect addition to your cd library.

"Bring Him Home" from the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Miserables :

"First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" -

"Music of the Night"


  1. I only disagree with one of your comments. Alfie's diction and pronunciation are not a "down side." They are part of what allows him to deliver the emotional punch of a song.

    I agree that "Someone To Watch Over Me" is the weak link on the CD. I think the problem with it is that the song was originally written to be sung by a woman, not by a man, and the manipulation of the lyrics to make it masculine is awkward at best. Not exactly a recipe for success!

  2. Good review, thanks for the videos. Unfortunately, NBC Universal has been pulling down every YouTube clip from the dvd of the 25th Les Mis concert, starting with Alfie's Bring Him Home. There is one clip left, shot by an audience member at the O2, "kuangchien," if you'd like to replace the link.

    And thanks for the "First Time Ever..." Saw him on his US tour last October. Part of what made the evening one of the best was what happens between songs. This clip gives a little taste.