Talking Music: Lee Mead Discusses Anniversary Show - Part 1

Talking Music: Lee Mead Discusses Anniversary Show - Part 1

Stage star Lee Mead is celebrating ten years since winning the coveted starring role of Joseph in the 2007 stage revival, an event that catapulted him into the public eye.

To celebrate this anniversary Lee is currently undertaking a yearlong anniversary tour in 2017/18 and he will be at The Riverfront, Newport on Saturday May 19 2018 at 7.30pm.

Lee recently took time out to tell James Rampton about the show, career and new album.

How do you feel about your forthcoming album and tour to mark your 10th anniversary since winning the role of Joseph in the 2007 West End revival of the iconic Andrew Lloyd Weber production?

I didn’t think I’d make it this far!   I am really excited about the tour and the new album release.   

Looking back on the last decade, how would you encapsulate it?

I’m very happy with the way my career has gone.   I don’t feel that I have had to compromise along the way. I’ve been approached a few times to do reality TV and I love watching some of those shows, but I’m not sure I would do very well on something like I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!  The idea of eating crocodile testicles is not on my agenda! Touch wood, I like to think that over the last 10 years I’ve made the right career choices.  

What will the show  “Lee Mead – 10 Years – The Anniversary Tour” consist of?

I’ll be doing more than 20 songs. I really believe in giving people their money’s worth. I’ll be doing the songs that have had an impact on me over the last 10 years - for instance, I’ll be performing Maria from West Side Story which is one of, if not the, greatest musical ever written. I thought it would be really nice to perform my own take on that particular song.   

What other songs will you be performing on the tour?

I recently took my daughter Betsy to see the film Boss Baby. Five minutes into the film, the girl has to move away because her dad changes job. She is upset and the song her dad sings to calm her and get her to sleep is Blackbird. At that moment, I started welling up. I thought, “I have to sing that song in my show.” I found a rehearsal recording of Paul McCartney performing it with an acoustic guitar. There is such a raw element to that interpretation. I just love that song. It’s so simple and yet so beautiful.

Tell us about the songs you have chosen on your new album?

Amongst the tracks are  Dancing Through Life from Wicked, Hushabye Mountain from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Close Every Door from Joseph, Bring Him Home from Les Miserables, and As Long As You’re Mine, a duet with Rachel Tucker from Wicked. I loved working on the album.   

What in particular did you enjoy about the experience?

Working with my producer, Simon Small, who has also worked with John Ilsley from Dire Straits and Michael Xavier. He’s got a great ear and is very passionate and very particular about getting it right.  Everything has to be the best it can be – down to the tiniest string line. If you’re not working with similar minded people, it may not work. But it works brilliantly with Simon

Are you looking forward to reconnecting with your very loyal fans on tour?

Absolutely. Every singer needs that support. If you’re lucky enough to have it, then it’s fantastic. People come to see me from LA, Norway, Holland. There are about 400 of them who are hard-core fans. They come lots of times to every show I am in. For example, they would come to see me in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang four times a week.

Why do you think people are drawn to you?

Perhaps they connect with me because I’ve always tried to be an honest and open performer.   I like to be more spontaneous than that. You can see if a performance is genuine or not. Ken Dodd said to me once, “It’s never about me performing to them.The show is a shared experience.”  You feed off each other and have an evening together. I love that. It’s the most wonderful feeling connecting with an audience. You can actually feel it.

You’ve recently been performing in Panto in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend? 

Yes. It’s great. I live a 10 minute walk from the theatre. As a child, I remember going to the panto there and watching Shane Ritchie and Frank Bruno and The Hoff. I’ve been very lucky to do a West End panto as well – last year I played Prince Charming at the London Palladium. But on my bucket list has always been to have top billing in my home panto. 

What do you love about panto?

It’s such a laugh. I remember Nigel Havers saying to me, “Remember, panto is great fun.” My thinking is that if it’s good enough him, it’s good enough for me! I love the fact that it’s one of the only forms of theatre where you get three generations in the audience. That in itself is so great. It’s lovely for Betsy to be able to come and see me on stage, too. If I can, I’ll do panto every year!

Tell us how you landed your first professional job.

I left drama school in Southend on a Tuesday and bought a copy of The Stage on the Thursday. I saw an advert for an open audition for lead singers on a cruise ship, and I got the job. I was so delighted, I immediately called my mum and dad and told them I had the job. It was a great feeling. I was 20. I was on £200 a week, but I was being paid for the first time. I was elated.

  Lee Mead brings his tenth anniversary show to Newport Riverfront on May 19

Lee Mead brings his tenth anniversary show to Newport Riverfront on May 19

What was the job like?

It was hard work. We went up and down the Bay of Biscay, which is the third rockiest sea in the world. I did five different shows a week.  Once a month, there would be a booze cruise across the Channel. We’d have to sing in a cage because the passengers were so lively. 

What did you do next?

I did summer season at the Bridlington Spa Theatre. I was lead vocalist there. I spent the summer playing Wishy Washy dressed as a banana. I would come on stage to “Banana Splits”. I had to perform “Barcelona” to 42 people. It’s a huge vocal performance. I hit the last note and was greeted by silence. At that moment a dog went, “Woof, woof!” There was a blind man at the back of the stalls with a guide dog. Everyone’s a critic!

Who else did you meet there?

I had many surreal experiences. For instance, I met Ken Dodd. He was lovely. He said, “Come into my dressing room for a chinwag.”  He’s the only comedian ever to have a number one single. 

What was your next gig?

I sang with a 15-piece band at Potters Resort in Suffolk. All the top comedians played there, everyone from Mike Reid to Joe Pasquale. I learnt a lot there about musical arrangements and singing with a full band. They invited me to stay, but I felt I should keep moving on.

So what was your subsequent move?

My friend Ian had an audition for Joseph at the New London Theatre. He had no money and asked if I’d mind driving him down to London. I had a clapped-out old Red Renault, which was very temperamental, but we made it! As I sat waiting for Ian at the stage door, one of the defining moments of my life happened. 

What was that?

I don’t know what came over me, but after 10 minutes sitting there, I thought, “Is it worth me auditioning?” I hadn’t prepared anything, but I loved Joseph. I knew all the songs inside out. I saw it for the first time in Southend when I was nine. So on the spur of the moment, I got on my hands and knees and crawled underneath the lady taking names at the stage door and headed for the auditorium.

So what happened once you had blagged your way onto the stage?

I was petrified. From the stalls, the director said, “Right, I know you have gate-crashed. You had better give us a good audition, then.” I tried to compose myself – I was shaking. But fortunately, I sang, “I Want to Break Free” by Queen, a song I know back to front, and I smashed it. 

And after you finished?

There was silence for about a minute. I was thinking, “Have I ruined my career before it has even started?” But then the director smiled and said, “Good job. very cheeky attitude and We’ll see you for the dance audition.” A week later I was rehearsing for the show.  Ian said to me on the drive back to Suffolk, “Only you could have got away with that!”

You soon got promoted up the cast list of Joseph, didn’t you?

Yes. I ended up playing both the Pharaoh and Brother Levi. It was 12 performances a week in what is known as the hardest show in the business. At the end of the tour, I felt exhausted. But we had done amazing venues like the 2000-seat Palace Theatre in Manchester. It was so exciting.

How did you make the next step up?

 I was appearing in the chorus of Phantom of the Opera in the West End. One day, I was eating tuna pasta in my dressing room between shows on a Saturday when Graham Norton popped up on TV and asked, “Could you be the next Joseph?” It was a lightbulb moment for me. I can’t describe it. It felt like destiny.

 How did the auditions go for Any Dream Will Do?

After the first two stages, the casting director told me, “You’ve got something. I’d like you to sing for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.” I thought, “Hang on, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice?” My audition is now on YouTube. Andrew and Tim are like gods to me. They are men I have looked up to my whole life. 

What happened in the audition?

 I remember my heart was racing as I walked in. The audition was acappella, which means you have got to be on the ball vocally. I sang “Anthem” from “Chess.” At the end, Tim said, “It’s a shame we’re not casting Chess right now because you’d be in the show!” I just couldn’t believe he’d said that! That was a turning point because I was suddenly on Andrew and Tim’s radar.

Why do you think everyone loves Joseph?

It’s such an iconic show. Lots of people have done it at school. It’s part of everyone’s life. It’s so pure and honest. It doesn’t try to be anything that it’s not. The lyrics are so witty. It’s a wonderful story about a guy who wants to get ahead in life. Quite apt for Any Dream Will Do, really. Joseph is a character I can relate to so much. He’s a dreamer with ambitions who wants to make things happen. 

  • Lee Mead will be at The Riverfront, Newport on Saturday May 19 at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £24 and you can buy tickets online at www.newportlive.co.uk/riverfront or call 01633 656757.
  • Check back tomorrow for the second part of Lee's interview.
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