Up Front and Centre! – Lee Mead appeared at The Pheasantry, London. The show continues to be performed on the last Sunday of every month until November.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
The very likeable Lee Mead now has his first residency at The Pheasantry. He’s sung at the Chelsea cabaret room off and on for five years, but now he’s booked to appear on the last Sunday of every month in a return to the world where it all started for him pre-Joseph; when he sang ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ on P&O ferries from Portsmouth to Spain.
More used to big stages and musicals nowadays or a TV studio making Casualty and Holby City, Mead admits to finding the intimate cabaret experience more daunting in some ways than either “because the audience are so close they can see the bogies up your nose!”
He has plenty of gently self-deprecating chat about his career in Joseph, Phantom, Miss Saigon, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, panto and UK tours to leaven his two long sets of pop covers and songs from the shows.
It is certainly a value-for-money show, running over two hours, and in closing each half with hits from Joseph, ‘Close Every Door’ and ‘Any Dream Will Do’, he tells us he did the show 600 times at the Adelphi between July 2007 and January 2009 and is in talks about a West End revival to mark its tenth anniversary.
‘Close Every Door’ in particular shows off the thrusting power of his voice in what is a lovely, undemanding way of spending a Sunday evening.
Ladies of every vintage hang on his every word and note, outnumbering the blokes by about eight to one.
Many of the grey-haired groupies had come a long way to sit at the feet of the cherubic, curly-topped Mead and were making a day of it, taking in his Mother’s Day matinee as well and staying in London overnight. One had flown over from Holland offered a gift of waffles, gratefully accepted.
Good friends, X Factor runner-up Rhydian Roberts and Stephen Rahman-Hughes, have guest spots, the classically-trained Roberts joining Mead in a stirring ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Misérables, Hughes duetting on ‘Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?’, originally sung by Dean Martin in the 1960 heist movie Ocean’s 11.
‘Why, God, Why?’ represents his touring stint with Miss Saigon, for which he was second cover for Chris, the lead. Second covers rarely get the chance to play the part, he said, but when the first cover fell quite seriously ill, he was lifted out of the ensemble for 75 performances.
‘Hushabye Mountain’ was a good choice from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – he played Caractacus Potts around the country last year.
And while there have been better versions of Sondheim’s ‘Being Alive’ (from Company), it is hard to fault Mead’s take on Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’, a cracking song, or George Michael’s ‘Let Her Down Easy’, the latter with words of advice he says which will resonate with him later when his six-year-old daughter Betsy grows up.
First-class material, first-rate band (Michael Riley MD/piano, Tommy Emmerton guitar, John Pearce violin), quality guests, a singer who can really put a tune across and tell a good story… what’s not to like? Roll on the next one on 30 April!