Michael Ball and Alfie Boe may trace their decade-long friendship to a London production of Kismet that Boe describes as “terrible,” but their parallel careers have been anything but. Ball, 54, nabbed Olivier Awards in 2008 and 2013 for playing Edna Turnblad in Hairspray and the titular role in Sweeney Todd on the West End, respectively, while Boe, 43, starred in Broadway’s Finding Neverland, succeeding Matthew Morrison and Tony Yazbeck as Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie last year.
So the pair’s decision to team up for a musical project may be a logical one — it’s just a wonder it took so long. In 2016, the pair released Together, a 14-song collection of stage and screen classics, like “Over the Rainbow” and “Music of the Night.” The album’s highlight, however, is the “Les Misérables Suite,” a medley of “Bring Him Home,” “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” and “I Dreamed a Dream” that feels fitting, given that the show was a milestone for both actors: In 1985, Ball starred as Marius in the original London production, and Boe’s performance as Jean Valjean was immortalized on 2010’s Les Misérables: 25th Anniversary Concert album. (He went on to reprise the role in the hit Broadway revival five years later).
“We didn’t plan on it being this huge event that it’s turned into,” Ball tells Billboard of the album, over the phone. “It started with just a couple of one-off concerts in the U.K. and then it kind of snowballed into this amazing year we’ve had with the record. The stars were in alignment, and it all came together.” (Clearly, theater fans thought so, too: Together was a surprise chart-topper in the U.K. during the holiday season.)
On May 23, the pair will sing at New York City Center for a one-night-only presentation of their joint concert, “Michael Ball & Alfie Boe: Together Again.” The program will include tunes from Together, as well as new material. A surprise guest who happens to be “a legend in theater and television” will also join the men onstage for a number, Boe says.
Audiences can expect plenty of witty onstage banter: the duo’s offstage chemistry is as obvious as their musical chops. “There’s nothing better than sharing a stage with a friend who you know has got your back, and who is fun to work with and makes you work harder. We push each other to be the best that we possibly can,” Ball says. “And we laugh a lot! It’s the best possible scenario.”
And rest assured, Les Mis devotees: Ball says he and Boe will never tire of performing material from that classic score. “With any songs that you sing for years… as you get older, wiser and have more life experiences, you find different nuances,” he explains. “That’s certainly the case with Les Mis — there are hidden depths to it.”
No doubt, more musicals lie in the pair’s future. Boe said he’s reluctant to cite specific roles he’d like to play moving forward (“I’ve always had the philosophy that characters find you”), while Ball offers that he wouldn’t mind the chance to step into Edna drag in Hairspray again. “God, it was a laugh! I’ve never had more fun in a theater than playing that role,” he says. “If they ever revive it on Broadway, give me a call.”