LEE MEAD, 40TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION, London Palladium
Of Any dream will do to a dream come true, Lee Mead took to the London Palladium stage for one night only, to celebrate his 40th birthday and 20 year career. Mead spoke of walking past the theater like a boy and his joy at being able to hold his own concert there.
I think I need to put this review in context. I’ve been a Mead fan since Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV casting live second Any dream will do, in 2007. It’s more than half of my life and a long part of his career. While I may not be strictly impartial, it’s fair to say that I entered the concert with high expectations, which were happily met.
Joe Pasquale did a slightly surreal warm-up act, painting an upside down portrait of Judy Garland as Dorothy, while MD Adam Dennis performed “If I Only Had a Brain” on the piano, and Pasquale performed told a series of scatological one-liners. His references to dating Mead seemed a little tenuous, but it was heartwarming that the comedian had come to support Mead, having unknowingly influenced him as a performer.
For anyone who has been a fan of Mead since the days of ADWD, hearing the early tracks of “Paint It Black” – originally The Rolling Stones – is enough to get your heart racing. Mead stepped outside, grabbed the mic stand in the center of the stage, and immediately resumed playing after a year and a half without an audience. It was the song that first showed British audiences his intensity as a performer, which has endured through his many roles ever since. The effect was old friends reunited: the song, the performer, the stage and their fans, all newly reunited.
The set list continued in an equally strong fashion. Mead has walked through some highlights of his career and released a few new tracks, enriched by a great selection of guests. Kerry Ellis was a brave choice for a guest as she could steal any show in her sleep. The former student of Mean (and many other things) stepped out in a gold sequined mini dress and sang Queen’s “Somebody to Love”. The audience didn’t need a lot of persuasion as she asked them to sing. One of the perks of wearing a mask in the theater is that you can participate as loud and as fake as you want and you won’t disturb the person sitting two rows in front of you!
Marisha Wallace was an equally spectacular choice. Also dressed in gold sequins, this time on the floor, she gave audiences another chance to join in on her catchy version of “This Is Me” (from The greatest showman). For the private fans of live theater for so long, being allowed to sing a catchy tune in a dark theater created a jubilant atmosphere.
The special guests were grouped together in the first and second acts, which could have been a bit more balanced. X Factor winner Dalton Harris – dressed in another fabulous sparkling gold number – didn’t get quite the same reception, perhaps because he’s less well known among the people of Mead. He also sang a lesser-known song (“Solitaire” by Neil Sedaka) and did not invite us to join.
Mead and Harris teamed up to perform “I’m Feeling Good,” but Harris didn’t sing the song enough to warrant a duet. That said, seeing the joy on the singers ‘faces as they performed together was worth it: their relationship whetted fans’ appetites for their virtual show together, Closer than ever. Steve Balsamo also enjoyed a fun and easy back-and-forth with Mead as he took the stage. They performed as a duet on a collaborative song called “Snow in June”, which seemed to capture the slightly nostalgic vibe of the evening.
It took a while for the crowd to warm up again in the second act. Personally, I thought Mead’s version of “Kiss” of Tom Jones was fun, sexy, and energetic, but many on the shelves took a while to get into it. This was helped considerably by a gentle, relaxed dance break, culminating when Mead took off his jacket. He had a new suit for the occasion: blue, three-piece, white shirt with undone collar, and a fan protested a few songs later when he put his jacket back on.
There were times when Mead was visibly rusty. He struggled to reach some of the lower notes of “All I Care About (Is Love)”, Chicago, and I had the giggles halfway through, so I couldn’t do the whistling section. He swept this moment endearingly, as he made his false start on “Hushabye Mountain,” when he underestimated the intro and arrived too early. Mead clearly loves being a father, so watching him play this song was very charming. He talked about singing it to his daughter Betsy as he put her to bed every Sunday on a tour with Chitty chitty bang bang.
Personal anecdotes abounded: Mead explained how his interpretation of Adele’s “When We Were Young” was inspired by memories of his grandparents; gave his opinion on his parents’ wedding song; and shared memories of Betsy growing up in the context of the shows he worked on at every stage of his life. Other highlights include his return to Mean‘s Fiyero, with “Dancing Through Life”: he still brings so much pleasure to the character, jumping his way through the upbeat melody.
Towards the end, Mead gave his interpretation of “Anthem” from Chess, his must-have audition song at the start of his career that gave me goosebumps last night. This was followed by the “song that changed his career”, and Mead became emotional as he reflected on his role as Joseph, quickly waking up from his reverie to perform “Close Every Door”.
As you might expect it ended with “Any Dream Will Do” although frankly at this point if he hadn’t, it would be like going to Elbow and them choosing to end other. thing as “Beautiful Day”. Mead joked that he has done the song in every gig he’s played: he knows it’s his signature song and there’s no point in trying to escape what people say. want to hear. That in itself sums up the tone of the evening: delighted fans to be back in the theater, listening to charming renditions of the songs they know and love.
Lee Mead, 40th Anniversary Concert performed at the London Palladium on June 10th. His tour starts September 3