LEE MEAD .. SOME ENCHANTED EVENING
I'm reaching that point in the tour where I'm starting to find it difficult to find new things to say about this wonderful show, but I will draw inspiration from the man himself who never fails to keep it fresh, holding on to the mantra we heard so often back in Joseph days that every show is the first show for the audience (well, most of them anyway!). Indeed, Lee said at Stage Door after the show that he likes to shake things up a little each time, to keep himself on his toes, and so he did in Bury St Edmunds... but more of that later.
First a few words about the venue - the Apex opened its doors in 2010 and its beautiful 500-seat auditorium put me in mind of the Sage at Gateshead, but on a far more intimate scale. The staff were welcoming, front of house areas light and spacious, the seats and leg-room generous, the stage wide and low and, most importantly, the view and acoustics excellent... a delightful addition to the long list of venues Lee has introduced me to over the years.
With the Stalls packed and people in both Galleries, the atmosphere is buzzing as we wait... then the band appears, the burst of applause for them dies down as the lights fade and Michael Riley starts to play. Applause erupts again as Lee appears, his sharp three-piece suit in contrast to the slightly wild hair thrown into backlit relief. Then that beautiful, rich voice sings the first, quiet lines of 'Where or When'... starting an intimate conversation with the audience that perfectly sets the scene for this enchanted evening, while the build to the final, powerful notes gives an exciting glimpse of the vocal riches to come.
As we move on to 'Foggy Day', the jazzier vibe allows the band to display their considerable musical talents to the full - and Lee starts to move... he's always roamed the stage, ensuring those left and right feel part of the party, but he does so now with 'swing', the rhythm getting into his feet and his fingers as he shuffles and spins and clicks. And that familiar grin starts to flash, his enjoyment of this music and the buzz of being in front of an audience again there for all to see. While there for Lee to see, was all the audience, the house lights never fading to total black. We know from the past that Lee can find this a little disconcerting and his "you're so close!" accompanied by a nervous giggle betrayed his feelings again this time, but he soon adjusted to the apparently terrifying sight of our happy, smiling faces gazing back at him!
This opening segment of five songs, all hitting the sweet spot of the tour's theme, drawn as they are from classic Hollywood musicals of the 1930s and 40s, are undiluted Lee - the unashamed romanticism of some of the lyrics giving him leave to talk about his own romantic side, though in charmingly typical Lee-style, he goes off on several tangents along the way. Then after a final flourish and a bow to the band, he introduces his special guest - the lovely Amanda Henderson, whose stunning voice comes as a delightful surprise to those who know her only for her Casualty role as Nurse Robyn Miller.
Her choice of songs for this tour is spot on, this first 'I Got Rhythm/It Don't Mean a Thing' medley suiting her bubbly personality to perfection, while all showcase her fabulous voice, none more so than the beautiful Judy Garland version of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' which she returns to sing in the second half. She stays on stage as Lee returns, joining him for the first time in 'The Way You Look Tonight' - a last-minute decision apparently, shaking things up as I mentioned up top. Their usual duet follows, an updated arrangement of an old Judy Garland/Barbara Streisand duet (with Lee as Judy!), which I love more each time I hear it.
And it's also in the second half that my own personal favourite appears... it seems unfair to single out any song from a set that delivers at every turn, but the honesty with which Lee both introduces and sings 'Feeling Good' make it very special indeed. The two more contemporary numbers that Lee includes later in the set also stand out for the emotional connection he so clearly feels to them, with many a finger wiping away a tear as he sings the beautiful Billy Joel song, 'Lullabye', dedicated to his young daughter, Betsy. The audience is loudly appreciative of a return to the show for which he will perhaps always be best remembered as a powerful rendition of 'Close Every Door' brings memories of the Joseph days flooding back, though Mason's arrangement and the new maturity in Lee's voice make it a very different song today.
Far too soon, Lee returns to the show's theme to bring the show to a close as, with a Cockney accent reminiscent of Anthony Newley and accompanied by the plinkety plink of Mason's ukulele, he bids us farewell with the somewhat melancholy 'I'll See You In My Dreams'. But shouts for more and even a good old-fashioned foot-stamping demand for an encore soon has him running back on stage as the band (who never left!) strikes up a familiar tune... the whole room joining Lee in 'Any Dream Will Do' before standing to show their huge appreciation for him, Amanda and his fabulous band - led by his long-time musical director (and album producer) Mason Neely on drums, guitar and occasional ukulele, with Ashley Long on bass, Rhys Taylor on clarinet, flute and sax, and Michael Riley (aka Joe!) on piano.
For those who like to read the fine print, I include a full setlist, with notes of the musical films in which the songs first appeared.
We're half way through the tour now and it seems to have gone by in a hugely entertaining flash, which is all the more reason to get yourself to one of the five remaining dates - Barnstaple 4 October, Yeovil 25 October, Winchester 8 November, Lichfield 21 November and the grand Christmas finale at London's Garrick Theatre on 6 December (if you were there last year, you'll know why this is so eagerly anticipated!). While many of these wonderful songs will be on Lee's new album (due for release in February 2016 but available for pre-order now!), others, including the sublime Feeling Good, don't make the final cut, so... if you want to hear them all (and trust me, you DO want to hear them all), you'll have to see them live! There are tickets available for all remaining shows, but the November dates in particular are already very well sold, so don't hang about!
Remaining tour dates and Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
First published: 22 September 2015