This one-off North Yorkshire date for Lee's fabulous, sold-out London show Up Front & Centre was the last Meady road-trip of the year for yours truly, about half the distance of the summer's Glamis adventure but with the same lovely friends for company and an evening of musical magic awaiting at journey's end... or half-way point, to be strictly accurate!
Reaching Yarm in time to enjoy a stroll around this charming town before meeting more friends for a pre-show meal, we arrived at the Princess Alexandra Auditorium as the light was fading... to find it 'dressed' in its very own amazing technicolor lightcoat! We stood a while to watch as colour blended into colour - grinning at such a serendipitous start to the evening. There were more grins as we entered the lobby to be greeted by a larger-than-life picture of Lee with the strapline "NOW ON SALE!" ... I'll leave our response to that to your imagination!
The auditorium itself is as beautiful on the inside as its setting on the bank of the River Tees is on the outside - wood-lined with perfectly raked seating curving gently around a wide, low stage... on which stood a grand piano, two chairs and a stool. The audience chattered excitedly, stilling briefly as the lights dimmed, applauding the band as they took their seats, then erupting into whoops and cheers as Lee strode, curls bouncing, to the front of the stage and wrapped his hand around the mic, eyes raking the auditorium as he started to sing.
He opened, as he has all year in London, with Michael Bublé's Everything - it's a great crowd-pleaser and Lee sings it perfectly, though a part of me always thinks he should really start with the second Bublé track of the evening (which comes later in the second half) simply because Haven't Met You Yet is actually true at this point... of most of his audience, anyway! But then I guess "It's you, it's you, you make me sing" is a pretty fabulous greeting to an audience too!
As soon as the song ends, the chat starts - complimenting the audience on their beautiful theatre and explaining how he'd come to bring his show north to Yarm. Band introductions came next... with two unfamiliar faces - Adam Dennis on piano and Stelios Kyriakidis on guitar - and one very familiar, John Pearce (pictured below with Lee) on violin. I loved that there were enough 'regulars' in the house to give John the, by now traditional, extra loud cheer... Lee may have come to expect it at the Pheasantry but his face was a picture when he heard it so far from 'home'!
With a new band line-up and only one rehearsal with Lee the day before, while in no way casting aspersions on anyone's musicianship, it would not have been surprising had there been the occasional wrinkle in proceedings... but the blend of band and voice was as beautiful as always, only the increased number of glances and nods between them all giving any clue as to how new they were to working together. Respect. Total.
After a Maria (right) that nearly took the roof off and an All Of Me so beautiful I forgot to breathe (and had some of the audience forgetting their manners, Lee asking afterwards if they could kindly switch their camera lights OFF while filming...), came a delightful surprise as Lee welcomed a special guest to the stage. Cinderella to his Prince Charming at the Palladium last Christmas and perhaps best known for stepping so brilliantly into the lead role of Funny Girl when Sheridan Smith was unfortunately indisposed - it was Natasha Barnes. She said lovely things about Lee, before singing Adele's Someone Like You, returning to share her amazing voice twice more in the second half, and I was thrilled to see Lee's tweet the following day announcing her as the second guest for his Christmas show at London's Harold Pinter Theatre on 3 December.
Lee returned to the stage to sing out the first half with a series of songs inspired by everything from childhood memories of his mum singing along to Wham as she hoovered (If You Were There) to thoughts of his daughter growing up (Let Her Down Easy) via the soundtrack of 'The Boss Baby' (Blackbird) ... getting the audience to sing along enthusiastically to Take That's Back For Good and taking us to the interval with a powerful rendition of a song which always receives one of the biggest cheers of the night, Close Every Door.
Early on in the second half is a trio of show tunes which blow me away every time I hear them, two from shows Lee's been in, the last from one he hasn't... yet! Starting with Hushabye Mountain from his most recent stage role in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, continuing with a stunning Why God Why from Miss Saigon, with John doing sterling work as the '15 piece string section' (that's why he gets the big cheers) and ending with an exquisite Bring Him Home from Les Misérables... I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping that his "maybe one day, when I'm very old and have lots more lines" dream of playing Valjean comes true.
Between those last two emotionally-charged songs came a moment of pure hilarity when Lee disappeared briefly backstage in search of water and reappeared with a friend... or "father" he joked as he patted his curls, producing the huge Leo Sayer banner he'd told us about earlier! His ability to switch from Saigon to Sayer and then back to Les Mis is astounding... a handy skill in an actor!
He talked too of having to choose between Lofty and the possibility of playing Chris in the West End revival of Miss Saigon, which later transferred to Broadway - as we know, he chose Lofty and now contents himself with walking down The Broadway in Southend - and of being about 23 when he did play Chris on tour, 36 now, saying how quickly time goes, that we should take every moment to be happy, to do what makes us happy, and earning a chorus of 'awwwwws' from the audience by adding "being in Yarm singing to you makes me happy".
Natasha's second number was You've Got A Friend, which Lee has also recorded (as he told us when he returned to the stage) for the film soundtrack of 'Three and Out', gallantly adding that he thought Natasha sang it better. It's a song I'd love to hear Lee sing live... maybe it can find a home on the set list for his eagerly-anticipated 2018 Annniversary Tour Lee Mead : Ten Years, many dates of which are already on sale, with the full tour schedule to be announced shortly.
Towards the end of the second half comes another 'sweet spot' for me, though there are no contrasting sour spots so the distinction is merely in the songs that have most personal meaning for me, when Lee sings first the song that convinced me beyond all doubt, reasonable or otherwise, that he WAS Joseph - Leave Right Now - recently returned to his concert repertoire where I hope it stays! - then a song I have loved a long, long time but never more so than when Lee sings it with such utter conviction that it could have been written for him - Feeling Good.
In introducing it, Lee mentioned that his favourite version is by Nina Simone but that Michael Bublé had also covered it, adding that he loved Bublé but had never met him. That was crying out for a response and a lady on the front row provided it... "you just haven't met him yet"! Lee loved it, offered her the mic, said he might steal it for future gigs. I'll let you know if he does. It's obviously a song that Lee loves to sing... in his eagerness he forgot to recall Natasha to the stage for her final song! But he soon rectified that and her version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which the band had learned in a quick run-through after she arrived less than two hours before the show, was beautiful. Natasha made the dash to Yarm from rehearsals for 'Tryst', a play which opens at the Tabard Theatre in Chiswick on 17 October, previews from the 12th.
And so, the end is nigh... Lee thanks the crowd for coming out to see him, asks if they've come far? For once, Yorkshire wasn't the long haul! Then introduces his last segment, starting with the story of how he met Chris Martin in the gym one day... I don't think I'll ever tire of hearing Lee's version of Fix You, he speaks lightly of what it means to him but when he sings it, you can hear how much in every word. He follows that with Lullabye, when in every word you can hear his love for his little girl. There isn't a song in this set that doesn't hold meaning for him, and that is what makes it so very special, for him and for those lucky enough to hear it.
To continuous cheers, Lee again namechecks his band, thanks everyone for coming, and runs off the stage. People rise to their feet, shouts of "more" and stamping feet (echoes of the 'stampy fans' at the TV show final) leave Lee in no doubt that we haven't finished with him yet... and back he comes. "One more song?" Oh yes... and it can only be the song that will be "on his tombstone" Any Dream Will Do, with full swaying arm, singing along, audience participation!
This was another fabulous Up Front & Centre show, worth every mile of the journey, and with only two more shows left in its London residency, I really hope it may have more life somewhere down the road. Meanwhile, it has totally whetted my appetite for more road trips - thank you Lee, and bring on next year's tour!
In the interests of full disclosure, I include a set list and finally, the photos here are mine - there are more behind the scenes, click on any image to view the FULL GALLERY - all taken without flash as per the venue's request.
Lee's full concert and events schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERTS & LIVE EVENTS
Published: 23/06/2017; last updated: 10/10/2017