Les Mis & the joy of Fleetwood - an interview with Alfie Boe

Posted on: 29 November 2010 by Alexander Hay

The thing about interviews is that they move. Sometimes the venue changes, often the time. But eventually I was able to get opera singer and stage star Alfie Boe cornered and asked him the hard questions that needed to be asked...

The face of (Alfie) Boe

(He rang me.)

Despite his management getting caught up in traffic, Alfie was in high spirits. He has a new album out, “Bring Him Home”, a collection of show tunes out on the 27th of December. 

But before that, and out today, is a DVD and Blu-ray of his recent performance as Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables”, performed at the O2 in October of this year to celebrate the show's 25th anniversary.

Alfie wasn't phased by performing in front of 40,000 people of course (or the scores of others watching it live in cinemas). “You mustn't blank that, you should embrace it, and really connect with those people” he says, “and by the end of the evening, I think I had. I felt all the people in the audience were on my side at the end, like friends - or family, really.”

Nor was he troubled by playing such an established character. It turns out that one of the show's strengths – and why it's lasted so long - is that its ever-changing ensemble cast. “That's why the show's been running for 25 years”, he explains. “Everyone brought something new to it, and the person who plays the role after me will also bring something new to the character and keep the show running again.”

Alfie certainly loves the show, but he also thinks Les Miserables needs more respect, comparing it to “La bohème” (he starred in Baz Luhrmann's Broadway production) in terms of how it was at first panned by the critics but eventually accepted as a work of art

Perhaps he has a point - so much of what we dismiss as trash culture gets  absorbed in our culture that in the end we pretend that it was never 'popular' and instead slap it with the 'high art' tag, usually 200 years after the original cast has died. 

Remember, Shakespeare's Globe had prostitutes in the stalls, and "Don Giovanni" had drunken audiences using the aisles as latrines. Nothing changes.

What most interested me about Alfie, though, was that he comes from the Blackpool/Fleetwood area – a particular fixation of mine. I ask him if he ever goes back there. Alfie sounds glad he's met someone with a southern accent who doesn't dismiss his hometown. For once.

“In fact, I'm going to Blackpool tomorrow - I'll be at the Tower doing a photoshoot” he says, eagerly. “So yes, Blackpool and Fleetwood are very close to my heart. It's where I grew up, obviously, and where my family are so I try to get back whenever I can.” 

A slight sadness creeps into his voice. “Unfortunately, work tends to take over and prevents me from doing that. But whenever I get a couple of days here and there, it's nice to take the trip up. I love to go to the Lake District too and do a bit of hiking, get some fresh air and come back, renewed.”

He points out that both Blackpool and Fleetwood are rather unappreciated, rather like Les Miserables, actually. Fleetwood was, after all, one of the biggest fishing ports in the UK, but now is a mere shadow of its former glories. Still, he feels optimistic about the future for his home town.

“It's a great little town with a lot of...” he pauses, “SPIRIT and so do a lot of the people who live there, and it keeps on going”, he concludes, with a certain pride and a mild defiance, happy that he – like Jean Valjean – is on the side of both the underdog and the underrated.

Alfie Boe's new album, "Bring Him Home", is out on the 27th of December. Pre-order your copy HERE.

The 25th anniversary Les Miserables DVD & Blu-ray are out now at £19.99 and £24.99 respectively. You can buy them at AmazonPlay.com and HMV

COMPETITION: Do you want to win a copy of the DVD? Leave a comment below on why you should have a copy - the two most amusing entries win!

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Alexander Hay

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