I'm not really a fan of reality TV, but last year I watched and very much enjoyed the search for a girl to play Maria and star in a new production of the Sound of Music in London's West End. Therefore when a new programme Any Dream Will Do, started up in the spring of 2007, once again with Andrew Loyd Webber's involvement, I decided to watch it. Am I glad I did! This time it was to find a new Joseph to follow Donny Osmond and Jason Donovan.
I admit I don't remember much about the first episode when the initial applicants were whittled down from thousands by Andrew, along with John Barrowman and Denise Van Outen, both of whom have often starred in musicals on the West End Stage. However from the second episode one particular young man, Lee Mead, caught my eye. After performing with 19 others at Andrew's theatre, attached to his castle in Ireland, Lee made it into the final twelve. From then on the production was moved to a studio and the twelve contestants had to perform weekly before a judging panel and an audience, with the viewers voting every week for who should go through. Although when it came to the 2 with the least votes, Andrew had the opportunity to save one to go through to the next round.
The first time Lee walked down the steps onto the stage and started to sing I knew he was the quintessential Joseph. He had it all: a wonderful voice, great looks, a fine physique and the most amazing stage presence. Lee has the unique ability to interpret a song and make it his own. As the other judge, Zoe, a singing coach, said Lee looks like an angel and sings like an angel. Not surprisingly Lee was never in the last two and was always voted through straight away.
In my opinion, and the opinion of everyone I knew, Lee was the young man who should win the part and to our delight he did. In no time at all the new production was booked up for six months ( the length of Lee's initial contract) and he was immediately signed on for another six months. Tickets became like gold dust. But thanks to e-bay, last week I was lucky enough to sit in a prime seat in the stalls and see him perform as Joseph in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the Adelphi Theatre in London.
From the moment he appeared, to be greeted by loud cheers, Lee captivated the audience. The production and the cast is superb. It is a bright, colourful production with great costumes and a joyous energy that is totally seductive. It is immensely entertaining and also amusing. Everyone taking part seems perfect for their role and are obviously enjoying themselves immensely. However, most of my superlatives must be for Lee himself, the best Joseph ever, he was born to play this role. His megawatt smile when he first appears shines out from the stage. It is so obvious that he is living his dream and that he is treasuring every moment.
Ladies, he is even more gorgeous in the flesh, with stunning good looks, surrounded by that tempting cluster of curly dark hair. His voice sounds even better in the theatre than it does on TV, with a strength and resonance that is captivating. He's a great actor and a consummate performer who imbibes every song he sings with so much powerful feeling and the boy moves so sexily as well! He perfectly portrays a rather arrogant young man, his father's favorite, who inspires nothing but jealousy from his many brothers. Their jealousy increases when his father presents Joseph with a wonderful coat of many colours. Eventually they set upon Joseph planning to kill him, but instead decide to sell him as a slave.
Joseph is sent off to Egypt where he becomes the slave of a rich man and works his way up in the household until the man's wife decides she wants Joseph for herself. It is at this point that Lee is stripped down to just a skimpy loincloth and ladies you'll lust after him even more. He looks great with just the right amount of well defined muscles.
He's is dragged off reluctantly(his horror here is a delight to behold) to his mistress's bed, but her husband discovers them and Joseph is cast into prison, maybe forever.
It is at this point that Lee sings Close Every Door, in the most exquisite, husky and heartrending way, with a voice resonating with intense feeling. I would wager no one has ever sung this song better. At the end, when his voice soars to a crescendo, shivers ran up my spine. Fortunately it is discovered that Joseph can interpret dreams and he is taken before the Pharaoh (A great Elvis impression here by Dean Collinson) The Pharaoh makes Joseph his second in command, in essence a Prince of Egypt. Once again Lee looks stunning in his costume and portrays a powerful prince to perfection.
A terrible famine begins but thanks to Joseph's prophetic dreams Egypt is prepared. With their family starving, Joseph's brothers come to beg the Prince of Egypt for food, not realising it is their brother Joseph. He gives them food, but plants a stolen cup in his younger brother Benjamin's bag to prevent them leaving. Eventually he reveals his true identity and is reunited with his father and his brothers admit the error of their ways.
I cannot find enough superlatives to explain how great the show is. Lee is all that those who voted for him hoped for and far far more. He most definitely has that elusive thing called star quality and I think this star is destined to soar very high. As John Barrowman said, he is destined to light up the West End stage for many years to come.
This is a show you will go to see and immediately want to return to see time and time again. I've already got two more sets of tickets booked. I can recommend it most highly, it is the best musical West End production I have ever seen.
Thanks to RUG and Tristram Kenton for the photos.