British tenor strives for equal success in the U.S.

Alfie Boe performs in the Jubilee Concert in June for Queen Elizabeth II.
Alfie Boe performs in the Jubilee Concert in June for Queen Elizabeth II. (JOEL RYAN / Associated Press)
Posted: February 04, 2013

For most people, singing along with the radio in the workplace won't yield more than a few dirty looks and shouts of "Pipe down!" But for British tenor Alfie Boe, it led to an audition that changed his life.

An accomplished opera singer, stage actor, and solo artist who makes his local debut at Glenside's Keswick Theatre Friday night, Boe reminisced in a phone interview Tuesday about the path that led to his first U.S. tour.

Growing up with eight siblings in a working-class, opera-loving family in the small Lancashire fishing town of Fleetwood, Alfred Giovanni Roncalli Boe, now 39, always had an inkling of what the future held, even while performing in amateur productions and working as a mechanic in a sports-car factory, serenading customers and coworkers.

"I always knew that something was going to be different for me - that something would happen - but I didn't know how to go about it," he recalls.

The opportunity came when a customer suggested he audition for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. So at 19 Boe traveled to London to "have a go at it" and was cast for a forthcoming tour. "It was an amazing feeling to have that happen," he says. "To move from a factory to a different existence. . . ."

In the two decades since, Boe - who received opera training at the Royal College of Music and the National Opera Studio - has gravitated to music theater, making his name in Britain for his West End performance as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, where he honed a rendition of "Bring Him Home" that's become his signature song.

Already a household name at home, he hopes to build a similar fan base in the United States. He's already known to American theatergoers for his performance as Rodolfo in Baz Luhrmann's 2002 Broadway update of Puccini's La Bohème, for which the cast won a special Tony. "The chance of working with Baz Luhrmann - you don't get those chances every day," he says. "So you take them with both hands and do your best and really go for it wholeheartedly."

Aside from cultivating an American audience, Boe is working to expand his repertoire. Concertgoers can expect a mix of classical, rock, country, and blues - plus "Bring Him Home," which Boe insists he never tires of. "Every time I sing it I try and put the same amount of effort in it as I possibly can, and I always have."

After a nine-day East Coast sprint, he will travel back to the United Kingdom for an arena tour. Despite the smaller venues here, he has faith that American audiences will provide a palpable energy. "The English audiences are a little tamer," he says, laughing. "There's something about an American audience that just lets itself go easier, and has a better time."

He counts himself fortunate for his crossover success. "I was very lucky," he says of the opportunities launched in that Lancashire auto factory. "Very lucky indeed."


Contact Elizabeth Horkley at ehorkley@phillynews.com

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