Brief Encounter with... West End Men star Lee Mead
Lee Mead, who rose to prominence after winning BBC casting show Any Dream Will Do in 2007 to play the title role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, is one of the stars of West End Men, which is currently in previews at the Vaudeville Theatre
What is West End Men?
Put simply, it's a concert show that celebrates the West End. We did our first few shows last summer on tour and they all sold out completely, so we thought we were on to something. We also did a 3,000 sell out show in Singapore and thought 'wow, this could be something really big'. That's when we brought Kerry Ellis on board and started working with some co-producers who have now brought us to London. Initially we thought it would just be a touring show so it's great to be playing the West End, especially doing a month-long run which is very rare for a concert.
What can we expect to hear?
We have the classics like "One Day More" and "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables, and "Music of the Night" from Phantom, which is sung by Matt Willis who's just joined the company. We also have some Rodgers and Hammerstein in there, and "Pure Imagination" from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which seems apt at the moment. But we also have some contemporary numbers - for example I sing "Fix You" by Coldplay - and there's some Stevie Wonder too. I also do "Close Every Door" from Joseph.
Any personal favourites?
I really enjoy singing "Fix You". I know it's not a theatre number but lyrically it's a great song and I just love the melody. Of the group numbers, we sing "Kiss from a Rose" by Seal which I think people will be very surprised by - there is so much going on, with the guys all overlapping each other, I think it sounds great.
Tell us a bit more about the company
Originally the show was for three men but then we decided on four and brought in David Thaxton, who won the Olivier for Passion, and Glenn Carter who played Jesus on Broadway and recently starred in Jersey Boys. Matt Willis started off with Busted and had a huge pop career, before going on to do shows including Footloose and Wicked. It's nice because it's a very mixed line up and a very experienced line up as well, and having a female singer of Kerry Ellis' calibre really strengthens it.
Is it easier performing a concert show as opposed to a musical?
It is in the sense that there is less to worry about than a musical. But we're not just walking out doing solo numbers, like in many other concert shows. There are some amazing harmonies and arrangements that flip the songs completely on their heads and give them a fresh take. We've put in a huge number of practice hours these past few weeks.
Is it poignant performing at the venue next door to the Adelphi, where you did Joseph?
Yes and it's quite weird because it was a big part of my life. It was very odd walking past the stage door. A lot has happened since then, personally as well as career-wise. I'm married and I have a three year-old daughter now, so my life is very different. It has been a good five years since then. On the work front I've tried to challenge myself with new things, from an Oscar Wilde play ( Lord Arthur Savile's Crime) to Wicked.
And what kind of work would you like to do in the future?
I'm hoping to do more TV work. I've already had a couple of guest leads. I had a part in Bedlam, a drama on Sky, and a guest lead in Casualty as well. But I'd like to do more TV and film work.
Do you encounter any snobbery about the fact you did a casting show?
Not really, but I think that's because I was performing professionally for about five years prior to doing Any Dream Will Do. You only really encounter that when you don't deliver, or if you step into a different realm. It's like me going into TV - there's a lot of work I need to do in order to be taken seriously and get those bigger parts. But it won't happen if you're not right for the role or don't deliver and put the work in.
So what do you make of actors who do theatre with very little prior experience?
My take is that it doesn't matter at all what background you come from. Take Matt Willis for example - he started in pop and sold three or four million records and sang at Wembley stadium. The guy can obviously write songs and is musical. But he's delivered in stage shows so people want to keep employing him. You don't have to be an genius to see if somebody can hit a certain note or if they can give a real performance.
Who are your personal West End heroes?
To be honest I didn't really have any because I didn't start singing until I was 18 or 19. I dreamed of being an actor and went to New York and actually did a film course out there, so I mainly looked up to film actors while growing up. But there are obviously people I find very inspirational, like Philip Quast for example. I used to live in Bromley when I was starting out and one day I was catching the train for an audition and I saw him. I didn't know whether to approach him but I plucked up the courage and he turned out to be the kindest man - we spent the rest of the journey talking about the business.
Would you encourage your daughter to follow in her parents' footsteps?
Well it was her third birthday the other day and we bought her a microphone and stand! She loves singing and she's already pitch-perfect. But that being said we would support her in anything she wanted to do. Whether it's singing and acting like us or being a vet, the key is to be happy. I was lucky that I had the support of my parents - they could've forced me to get a degree and a secure career, but they didn't. This is a very insecure business and even when you're in work it's not always guaranteed.
What's next for West End Men?
After the West End run the plan is hopefully doing another UK tour in the autumn. Then we might go back to Asia and do some tours out there and in Australia as well; we're looking at Vegas in the long term. Obviously it will depend on how it is received, so this run is a big deal for us. But if the show keeps selling as it has been and if we keep going forward then it could become something very big indeed.
West End Men continues at the Vaudeville until 22 June 2013. Come on our hosted Whatsonstage.com Outing on 17 June 2013 and get your top-price ticket, a FREE programme and access to a post-show Q&A with the cast all for £30.00! Click here for details