It's been a mad week but on a day when I should be 60 miles south enjoying Sunday lunch with my niece, I unexpectedly find myself snuggled on the sofa as the snow that I'm hugely grateful didn't arrive this time last week falls steadily outside. So... time to try and recapture some of the magic of last Sunday's wonderful Lee Mead at Christmas show at the Harold Pinter Theatre in the heart of the West End.
Before I continue, I should say that, apart from the first scene-setting photo of the stage, for which many thanks to Jill, the photographs here are from the camera of official photographer Phill Cowndley and are shared with his kind permission and that of Lee's team at Eclipse.
As soon as I saw the double doors at the back of the stage, I knew Lee wouldn't make his usual entrance from the wings, and sure enough, as the band struck up the intro to his first number, the doors opened to reveal Mr Mead in his tux, mic in hand. Cheers rang out as he walked to the front of the stage, quieting only when he started to sing. A little later, as the boys in the band "took it away", Lee danced his way across the stage and back, his mood clearly matching that of the room... happy, excited and ready to party!
Greeting everyone after that first song, he added with some indignation that this year he hadn't been allowed snow - a much-loved feature of his previous Christmas shows - although the theatre owners were fine with it, the resident play's producers said no. But, a glint in his eye and a triumphant note in his voice, Lee announced "ladies and gentlemen, I don't give in... so if you're good boys and girls, there might be a surprise for you as you leave the theatre tonight!" More of that later... but can I just say how very grateful I am for Lee's stubborn streak. His exercise of it in the decade he's been in the public eye, and indeed throughout his life, has brought us far more than simply 'snow against the odds'.
But this night was all about comfort and joy, as Christmas songs mingled with songs from Lee's recently completed, sell-out, monthly Pheasantry residency (full setlist here). Many of the latter will also feature on his new album Lee Mead - 10 Years which, along with his Anniversary Tour (26 UK dates - booking now!), celebrates the ten years since he won and played his first West End lead role in Joseph. Between the music was the often funny, sometimes random, always engaging chat that is as delightful a feature of Lee's shows as his stunning vocals. And with friends as well as fans in the audience - people from the Salvation Army (Lee will be their guest, along with Kerry Ellis and Ben Forster, for a fundraising concert in January, a few tickets still available) and the Holby City gang among them - there was a whole lot of love in the room for the man bringing the joy.
Lee was backed by a group of super-talented musicians, some already well known to his fans and all cheered to the rafters as he introduced them - John Pearce on violin, Adam Dennis on keyboards, Richie Blake on bass guitar, Ed Richardson on drums, Adam Goldsmith on guitar and Martin Williams on sax and clarinet - and supported by two, or more accurately five, guests. First to the stage was the lovely Natasha Barnes, Cinderella to Lee's Prince Charming in last year's Palladium panto and also his guest in Yarm earlier this year - joining the Christmas party, she sang Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas before Lee joined her for a laughter-filled duet of Baby, It's Cold Outside.
After his Chestnuts and a soaring Maria, Lee welcomed his next guests Four Hymn, the Salvation Army's first 'boy band' - Karl Westwood, Joe Rose, Nathanael Watchorn and Nick Hampton - who sang two songs, including one of my favourite carols O Holy Night. Lee then closed the first half with a song "from the role that changed my career", Close Every Door... setting the mood, he asked us to imagine the prison bars, the dark and the damp, only for several voices to call out "the loincloth"! How he moves from comedy to stillness in a heartbeat and sings words he has sung thousands of times before with the raw passion of a first performance, I'll never know... but that's one of the many reasons he is up there doing it and I'm sitting here writing about it!
Interval over, Lee re-appeared through those double doors, dressed this time in the very fine Christmas jumper you see in some of the images here - a gift, I happen to know, from four of his fans who knew it was 'him' as soon as they saw it - nice one, ladies! Having cheerfully insulted his whole audience by asking for the house lights to be turned down so he didn't have to see "this ugly lot", Lee opened the second half with a song that any of you who've read my reports in the last couple of years will already know is a favourite of mine. I love the song, always have, but when Lee sings that he's Feeling Good and you know with every word and note and breath that it's true, it makes my heart sing too. And that is a rare and wonderful thing.
Four Hymn's third song Adeste Fideles took me back more years than I'm prepared to admit, to singing descant (when I still could!) in the school choir. I really enjoyed their performances - their love of singing shining through in some great arrangements.
Next came a 'song for Guy'... no, not that Song for Guy, this one was for Lee's colleague at Holby City, Guy Henry (who plays Henrik Hanssen), who had hot-footed it from filming to catch the second half of the show. This "special man ... so funny, nothing like his character" had mentioned on set that one of his favourite songs is Will Young's Leave Right Now, which Lee sang a fabulous version of back on Any Dream Will Do. Thank you Guy for putting this song back on Lee's radar - I'm loving hearing it again (even with the... er, let's call it unconventional sequence of verses we were treated to last Sunday!) and am absolutely delighted it will be on the new album.
With disarming honesty, Lee introduced his next number by saying "I'm in love, ladies and gentlemen" then, when the cheers faded "I've found someone very special and I'm very happy. She's here tonight and I'd like to dedicate a song to her" adding that he hoped he got it right! As Christmas songs go, it was the perfect choice - All I Want For Christmas - and as always, when Lee sings something with such personal meaning to him, he lives it... and the audience live it with him. It was beautiful, and hearing it, knowing he is so happy, brought a tear or few to my eyes.
He followed that with the surprise of the night for me... a song we've not heard from Lee since the 2012 Love Tour, and one that I never thought to see him sing with "I'm Sexy and I Snow It" emblazoned across his chest... Gethsemane. The collective gasp of delight when he announced it drew a "you haven't heard it yet" from Lee, but he needn't have worried... five years' more development of his vocal power and range rendered an already dramatic and heart-wrenching interpretation into something just... immense. I do hope its reappearance isn't a one off - it would be wonderful to hear it again on tour next year.
After Natasha's final two songs - a phenomenal Don't Rain on My Parade, showing just why West End audiences took her to their hearts when she stepped into the lead of Funny Girl last year, and You've Got A Friend - Lee returned to the stage, minus jumper, to close the show. He thanked everyone for coming, invited us all back again next year and hoped to see us on tour, enticing us by saying he'd be wearing the coat again for the first time in ten years before adding with immaculate timing "I wear it every day at home, but...".
When we'd all stopped laughing, it was time for the last song... Lee's voice like velvet as he sang the familiar opening lines of White Christmas, the audience singing gently along until a subtle shift in the rhythm heralded a neat segue into the even more familiar Any Dream Will Do. Of course, we didn't have to wait for next year's tour to see the famous swirl again... with the whole audience on their feet and Lee's guests joining him on stage in their Christmas jumpers, all singing and swaying and clapping along, the main man disappeared into the wings, leaving Four Hymn and Natasha Barnes, to hold the fort for a while. The cheers of joy and screams of excitement that greeted his return in THE coat really brought home just what strong, happy memories people have of that incredible time ten years ago. I hope they all come flocking to his tour - it will be a real celebration of that time and all that he's achieved since. (Sorry no dreamcoat photos, I'm afraid they're embargo'd for copyright reasons!)
As the cheers faded, a shouted 'do Daydream Believer' (which he sang on Any Dream Will Do and closed his concerts with on his first tour) prompted Lee to start singing it, joined immediately by the audience and a little later by his band... I think "razing shavors" might be my very favourite spoonerism ever! After more cheers for Lee's fabulous band, there was one last number, the beautifully simple Blackbird, which will also be on the new album, due for release on 23 Feburary - look out for a pre-order link soon - just in time for the tour which kicks off in Newbury the following day.
With a final "Don't forget to look up on your way out! I love you all very much - thank you all for coming" Lee left the stage for the last time and his happy audience slowly filed out of the auditorium... almost all queuing patiently to leave via the main doors rather than escaping through the side exits, their patience rewarded with their very own winter wonderland, courtesy of Mr M's snow machine! Well played sir, well played.
Lee's full concert and events schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERTS & LIVE EVENTS
Published: 28/08/2017; last updated: 10/12/2017