I had a few hours to while away in London between brunch with a friend and a concert this evening, and with a bottomless coffee and free wi-fi on hand, my mind turned to Lee Mead's fabulous The Best Of Me tour, which came to an end in Worcester last weekend.
You can read my report of the opening concert of the tour at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds here and, while I won't attempt similarly detailed reports of each concert, there were some special moments along the way that I feel should be recorded... if only to help my own failing memory look back on these happy October days in years to come.
There was an unscheduled day off after Bury, as the Harlequin in Redhill had sadly been forced to close its doors because of RAAC concerns, but normal service was resumed on Thursday 19th as the tour arrived at the Watford Palace Theatre. It was raining, I recall, but spirits within the theatre were entirely undampened. The set was unchanged, but for the addition of Free Fallin' in the second half - as he so often does, Lee explained his connection to the song, telling us it was playing in the restaurant as he first said "I love you" to his beautiful fiancée, Issy.
We were also without a guest (as we would be for the rest of the tour)... Sandy receiving a rather more conventional (though no less enjoyable) treatment than Bury's duet version wth Joe Pasquale! Lee's "are you all from Watford, then?" was greeted by the usual chorus of places near and far. One lady sat quietly in the centre of the front row until noisily outed by shouts of "Colorado" from the fans around her! Lee did the verbal equivalent of a double-take "Colorado... [short pause, then with suitable incredulity] Colorado?! You've come all the way from Colorado? To Watford?!" "Yes" she said, "though not just for Watford!" He spoke at several concerts of his hopes of taking his show to New York late next year or in 2025. I hope the occasional trip to the UK by his US fans fuels that ambition... there are some of us who would very happily make the reverse trip for a change!
Friday found us at the West Cliff Theatre in Clacton, a fan favourite and effectively a 'home gig' for Lee on this tour. With family and friends in the audience, Essex dates always have an extra 'something' about them, but on this occasion there was a tangible 'something' as well as the heightened atmosphere. I am far from alone in being thrilled that Lee had included Seven Seas of Rhye in the set - his solo number from a glorious summer stint as Khashoggi in We Will Rock You. He'd said after singing it in Bury that he wasn't sure about including it, that musical theatre numbers don't always work out of the context of the show. We urged him to keep it in and to give it as much 'mad-eyed' Khashoggi as he wanted! Anyway, back to Clacton... he told us of a chance encounter with a group of fans in a restaurant pre-show which (long story short) resulted in 'Joy' (not quite her name!) offering the use of her walking stick in lieu of the cane he had carried in the show. He duly collected it from her and with mic in one hand and pink, flowery 'cane' in the other, gave us plenty of Khashoggi, and more than a few laughs!
With the first week behind us, Tuesday 24th October found us starting a three-day sweep across the south/south west of England (in company with a certain Coloradan fan!) from the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth via the Corn Exchange in Newbury to The Brewhouse in Taunton - all venues that had featured on previous tours and welcomed Lee back with great enthusiasm.
In Portsmouth, there was a short delay to the start of the concert to allow those caught in local travel chaos to reach the venue. Once there, the usual mix of laughter and sublime music followed, culminating in a very emotional tribute from Lee to Bill Kenwright who had died that morning. Many will remember Bill as a judge on Any Dream Will Do, but Lee's connection with him goes back much further... it was Bill who gave him his first break in musical theatre, playing the Pharaoh and Brother Levi on the UK tour of Joseph in 2004. He employed him again on the UK tour of Tommy the following year and again, after his hugely successful run in the 2007 West End revival of Joseph, giving him his first role in a play - the title role in the UK tour of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime in 2010. Lee spoke with evident emotion of how much he, and the whole of the UK theatre industry, owed to Bill before dedicating Anthem to him, the audition song that opened the door to that first role and which he also memorably sang for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice during the Any Dream Will Do auditions.
It would be blatantly untrue to say there were no 'special moments' in Newbury, for with a hugely partisan crowd and Lee on superb form, every song hit its mark... but I will perhaps remember this one most for the wealth of friends it brought together (many captured in a group photo with the man himself at the end of a long post-show signing queue). Oh, and for Seven Seas Of Rhye - caneless again after two days with Joy's walking stick, he brought even more Khashoggi to the party - and it was FABULOUS!
On Thursday 26th, theatres across the country paid tribute to Bill Kenwright... many washing their venues in blue light - Bill's other lifelong passion was Everton Football Club of which he was Chairman for almost 20 years. In Taunton, blue spotlights shining, Lee again spoke of Bill's immense contribution to UK theatre, with over 500 productions to his name, and on this occasion, sang Close Every Door in his honour.
Of course there was laughter too - it wouldn't be a Lee gig without it - and one moment in particular that will live long in the memory of our Coloradan friend. Lee hadn't brought his usual 'Grease' prop (a leather jacket), but turned up the collar of his suit jacket... and therein lay the problem. He turned down one side, swapped his mic to the other hand, turned down the other side... only for the first side to pop back up again. After a couple of attempts, which an apologetic shake of the head from the front row told him had been unsuccessful, he said he needed help. Stepping down from the delightfully low stage, he turned his back to the lady in question and dropped to one knee so she could do the honours! A pat on the shoulders to tell him she was done and he returned to the stage with a grin and a 'thank you' ... and it was on with the show.
Throughout the tour, the 'audience choice' song - Bring Him Home or Music Of The Night - usually went the way of the former... on only two occasions did we hear the latter, in Portsmouth and on the final night at the Swan Theatre in Worcester, where a very vocal, near capacity crowd persuaded Lee to sing both! We missed out on Feeling Good as a result, but the trade-off was most definitely worth it (and many of you know just how much I love Lee singing Feeling Good!) - the work Lee put in when auditioning for the role of the Phantom a couple of years ago (getting tantalisingly close to landing it) showed in every exquisite note. I very much hope he will have the opportunity to play the role in the years ahead, and Jean Valjean too for that matter!
The setlist remained broadly consistent across the whole the tour, but in usual Lee 'keeping it fresh' fashion, there were a few tweaks along the way... some are mentioned above, all are captured in the full tour setlist. Also consistent throughout were Lee's incredible voice (so many people saying, in person and on social media, that he just gets "better and better"!), his easy command of the stage, his charm, his humour and his total commitment to ensuring every audience has the best possible time - the tour name could not have been more apt... it was quite literally The Best Of Lee. And there may be more to come... in his final backstage video of the tour, he reiterated his hope that the tour will be extended in 2024, adding that they are currently in talks with venues in Scotland and the north of England for next April - watch this space!
Lee's full concert and events schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERTS & LIVE EVENTS