Thursday, 22 October 2015

Big Interview: Lee Mead

Lee Mead is currently touring the UK with his Some Enchanted Evening concert.

Marking his fourth UK concert tour, the show turns back the musical clock to the golden age of Hollywood and celebrates some of the classic songs that that have become a part of our musical heritage. 

In 2007 Lee won the BBC1 programme Any Dream Will Do and went on to star as the title role in the West End revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Adelphi Theatre.

His theatre credits also include: title role in Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (UK tour), Fiyero in Wicked (Apollo Victoria), Emmett in Legally Blonde (Savoy), The West End Men (Vaudeville/UK tour), Levi and the Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (UK tour), understudy Tommy in Tommy (UK tour), understudy Chris in Miss Saigon (UK tour) and understudy Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty's).

Lee is currently playing Lofty in BBC1's Casualty and will return to musical theatre next year when he stars as Caractacus Potts in the UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang between 4th May and 18th September 2016.

Earlier this year Lee was nominated for a NTA Award for favourite newcomer. He won a West End Frame Award in April 2012 for Most Wanted West End Return. Lee is currently recording a new studio album to be released Spring 2016.

I recently spoke to Lee about how he put together his Some Enchanted Evening tour, how Casualty has re-launched his career and what it’s like to look back at everything that’s happened over the past few years…

How are you finding your Some Enchanted Evening tour so far?
It has been great, actually! There are just ten dates on this tour because I’m filming in Cardiff during the week. The concerts have been every two weeks since July and go through until the end of the year. It’s a shame because I usually go out and do twenty or twenty-five dates on tour when I’ve put a new show together so I think the plan is to tour next year as well. It took five months to put the show together with band calls and finding the right songs. 

How have audiences been responding?
It has gone down really well; I’ve been playing slightly smaller venues which is nice in terms of the pressure of selling out shows. I feel closer to the audience which I’ve enjoyed. They’ve all been about 500/600 seaters.

How do you find playing different venues?
Well before I launch my tours I always play a little venue called The Pheasantry in Chelsea. It’s lovely, but probably seats about seventy people. It’s a good setting so it feels relaxed, but the front tables are about a foot away from you [laughs]. You can see them staring at your face! I quite like that intimate feel, it makes it a completely different show to when you’re performing to about 600 people. 

What can audiences expect from your current tour? How did you go about putting it together?
I was in Cardiff town centre one afternoon after finishing work early. I was in Starbucks or somewhere in the high street thinking about my next record. I’m very lucky to work with a guy called Mason Neely who has produced my last two albums, he’s a very talented man. I wanted to make a musical theatre record and tour which I’ve never done. Artists like John Barrowman, Michael Ball and Michael Crawford have all released the main back catalogue. I could have done my take on those songs and I’m sure it would have been fun, but I thought it would be nice to do something different. 

Lee in Casualty
What inspired you to do something a little different?
Well I remembered watching things like Singin’ in the Rain, Guys & Dolls and South Pacific in my childhood, I would watch them on Sundays when I was about nine or ten. In a way that’s what got me into musical theatre – it wasn’t We Will Rock You or Wicked because those shows weren’t around. I remember seeing Shane Richie in Boogie Nights at the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend [laughs], and the Bill Kenwright production of Joseph. But it was those old films that really got me into it so I went home and started playing the music on YouTube and wondered whether I could put a show together. To do a carbon copy of that era wouldn’t work, I wanted to do fresh arrangements and give the music a jazz twist or modern sound which I think we’ve achieved. It has been fun! I have a five piece band so it’s a really nice set up. It took a good few months to put everything together. 

How did you find balancing preparations for the tour with filming Casualty?
It was been tricky with filming because I’m on set most days half seven to seven, then go home with scripts to learn for the next day. I’ll have a bite to eat and then it’s half nine… then I’m learning songs for the tour until about two in the morning [laughs]. With arrangements to do and band calls to organise it felt like doing two full time jobs. Obviously once the show was on its feet I could relax. After the first show I pretty much just went home and collapsed [laughs]. 

Are you able to enjoy it now?
Well I’m about four or five gigs in now and am definitely able to enjoy it much more. For the first few shows I was still getting used to the material. I’m hoping to take the show out on tour again next October for a whole month. Previously I’ve been in Wicked and various productions whilst doing my tour at the same time on Sundays, so it will be nice to do my first full tour. 

And you’re bringing it to the West End for one-night-only this Christmas! Are you starting to feel festive?
Yes! It’s a hard climate now to sell shows… unless you’re Michael Bublé. We booked the Garrick last year and I kind of backed myself – there are obviously quite a few costs involved to hire a venue in the West End for a night. Fortunately the show sold out so I decided to back myself again this year, but then suddenly there were three or four producers who said, “We’re happy to pay a fee to book the venue.” I was like, “Where were you last year?!” [laughs]. We’ve sold about 60% of the tickets; it’s so nice to be finishing this year’s tour at the Garrick. I’ll so some carols and some Christmas songs, there will be a few guests as well. I’m still putting it together, I’m doing some songs from last year but it’s important to do new stuff too. I do that and then the morning after I’m rehearsing in London for panto!

Lee with Carley Stenson in Legally Blonde / Photo Credit: Ellie Kurtz

I can’t believe you’ve been in Casualty for well over a year and a half now. Has it flown by?
It’s gone in spells really, initially it went quickly. Then I signed for a second year and it went a little slower. I finish in November – I’m taking a year off to do some concerts and I have my fourth album coming out next spring. I’m in talks for some new musicals as well so fingers crossed I can go into a big show again (it has since been announced that Lee will star in the UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). 

Has it felt like a big career move?
Yes, I love the show and it has been great for me. The whole Joseph thing happened in 2007 which was amazing – it completely changed my career and profile. I’ve worked consistently since Joseph, but to get Lofty in Casualty is like a second career boost to re-launch myself again. It’s been like a new chapter. I love the part, the show has about five million viewers a week so has a great following!

It can be so easy for performers in musical theatre to become pigeonholed, has it always been important for you to keep things varied?
There’s a show in Cardiff this week called Broadway To The Bay which my friends Kerry Ellis, Michael Xavier, Rhydian and David Thaxton are doing so I’m hoping to go and see it! I can’t speak for anyone personally, but I know some people are really happy having an entire career in musicals, doing concerts and being in shows.

Lee in Joseph
For me, very early on – even before the whole Joseph thing happened – I had a dream of doing acting roles on telly. I didn’t know how or if it was going to happen, but it was always in the back of my mind. I fell into musicals and was in the chorus of a few shows and then went on to cover leads in shows including Phantom and Miss Saigon and took that path for a while, but I always wanted to come back to screen work. I tried for a good five years after Joseph; I was down to the final two for the BBC’s Robin Hood as well as for various dramas such as Waterloo Road. Producers wouldn’t give me a break because for some reason in this country it’s harder to cross over to television from musicals.

Whereas on Broadway it happens all the time…
Yeah! There are lots of great leads on Broadway who also do TV. It seems to be a more natural cross over, but it took me a long time. Four years previously Oliver Kent, who is the Executive Producer of Casualty, called me in for a guest role on the show. After the episode I got a handwritten letter from him thanking me for my work, and he said “I’ll be in touch one day”. I thought, ‘Yeah… the amount of times I’ve heard that in this business’ [laughs]. But true to his word, a few years later I got a call from my agent who told me about this new Nurse called Lofty in Casualty and that Oliver Kent thought I was perfect for the role. I had one audition, was there for about an hour and a half doing three scenes. Fortunately I did a good job and started filming a week and a half later! I put my whole life into a big van and off I went to Cardiff!

And here we are!
I know – I was really happy to be given the chance to open my career up and show that I can do straight acting work. Fingers crossed it will lead to more TV roles in the future! It’s also important for me to always go back and do theatre because I love being in shows too.

Do you have any personal favourite big musical theatre songs you like to perform?
It’s cliché… but I guess it’s cliché for a reason… I love singing ‘The Music of the Night’. I was fortunate enough to be cast in Phantom and it’s one of my favourite shows. I think it’s been running for so many years because it’s so well written and the songs are beautiful! ‘The Music of the Night’ stands strong as a piece on its own, it really is beautiful.

Lee as Fiyero in Wicked

Final question; you have so much dedicated support behind you from fans. What’s it like to know there are so many people who will come and support you in absolutely anything and everything you do?
To be honest it’s always quite a surprise! It always amazes me. I was in Barnstaple a couple of weeks ago doing my show and everyone was there – it’s a long way to go! People have travelled from New York and Holland – the support is international as well! People fly over to see the show. When I’m doing a run in a musical people will be there three or four times a week. I always think, ‘How can you afford to do that?!’ [laughs]. It must cost them a fortune with all the travel and the tickets! 

I feel very lucky, those people are always there for you. It’s so nice always having them there for support. They are all so lovely and will always stay for a chat after the show. What’s nice is that often they end up getting to know each other so meet up and plan trips together – they’ve become close friends over the last few years! It’s pretty amazing! I get moments where I think that I’ve had to work very hard to get to this level. My very first jobs were doing cabaret and stuff – I was on a car ferry for P&O Cruises going from Portsmouth to Spain. I’ve seen both spectrums of the industry. When I’m doing my show I sometimes walk out and think, ‘Wow, I’m very lucky and very blessed to have people who want to come and watch me sing!’

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Lee's tour dates include Yeovil, Octagon Theatre (25th October); Winchester, Theatre Royal (8th November); Lichfield Garrick Theatre (21 November). He plays the West End's Garrick Theatre on Sunday 6th December 2015. Please visit for further information and tickets.

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