Hard to believe we’re finally here. A week later than anticipated, but in a couple of hours we’ll have a new West End leading man. Or should that be Lee-ding man, if the bookies are to be believed?
We start with all twelve finalists, reunited for Go Go Go Joseph. Ah, Chris Crosby, you were gone too soon. Ah, Anthony, still holding in your stomach, I see. Ah, Daniel, your fans are quite mad, you know. Good taste, mind, but quite, quite mad…
And with the chandelier dropping as heavily as one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s botched punchlines, it’s on with the show. Actually, you’ve got to hand it to ALW, his Blofeld impression may be complete rubbish, but he’s really entered into the spirit of Saturday night television. But tonight isn’t about him, it’s about three young singer/actors who are about to embark upon the next stage of their careers. One of them will be at the Adelphi in a few weeks, but I’m sure that we’ll see more of the others, too.
First up is Lewis, with his version of Kiss. But I’m sorry, ‘the Tom Jones song’? How about the ‘Art of Noise cover of a Prince classic with vocals from Tom Jones’? Quibbles aside, if Lewis had delivered this sort of performance throughout the run, he wouldn’t have found himself in the sing-off three times. Out of nowhere, it seems, he’s worked out how to bring both the studio and television audiences along with him, and introduces enough choreography that shows he can sing and dance at the same time without overpowering the vocal. It’s like turning eighteen made him a man.
John: “Showman, Showman, Showman… I’m sorry you saved it to the last show.”
Bill: “More than anything, you’re a winner.”
Andrew: “The cry-baby fried us, baby, tonight. You’ve made the best journey of anybody in this programme.”
Second is Keith, singing Stevie Wonder’s For Once In My Life. Unfortunately, it seems to be in slightly the wrong key for him, with several of the notes in the verses dropping to the limits of his bottom register — and when that happens, his instinct is to drop his chin down. The rest of the time, though, his vocal is as good as it has been through most of the competition. Unfortunately, camera angles don’t show whether he’s cured his odd standing posture. He looks, to me, like he’s still leaning too far backwards.
Zoe: “When I hear you now, it knocks me for six… Scotland’s loss is the West End’s gain.”
Denise: “You sing fantastically every week… from superstore to superstar.”
Andrew: “You really can sing wonderfully, and you’ll have a career whatever happens tonight.”
And now we have Lee. To all those who complained that Lee shouldn’t be here because he’s a professional — wake up. What did you think a West End actor should be? It’s an open audition that may have enabled an amateur to turn professional, but the key is whether someone can do the job. Anyway, here he’s singing The Devil in Disguise, which is a very good performance. But is it a great one? There’s something missing for me, I’m afraid — although I know that the sound levels in the studio are far from ideal (and have been throughout the series), Lee is the first one to sing slightly off-key as a result, going sharp in a few places. The choreography is simple — just walking around, really. To be honest, I expected Lee to blow me away, but Lewis impressed me far more tonight.
John: “You’re a lead in disguise… I forgave you the tuning issues, but the audience loved watching you.”
Zoe: “These boys are on their last dregs of energy… I’ve been tough on you…”
Bill: “This boy is a great interpreter of songs…”
Denise: “…And he’s sexy.”
Andrew: “What happened on the stairs [the sharp note]?… It was terrific.”
Can I just say, by the way, that I do write my notes as the performances are going on? I’ve had a couple of emails throughout this that ‘suggested’ (a polite way of putting it) that I just borrow what the judges say. If that were true, I’d be repeating everything three times while jumping up and down (John), coming up with cheesy catchphrases (Denise), finding something to sit on the fence about (Bill) with a vehement Brummie accent (Zoe)… Nope, it’s all me. Even when I found out that all the Josephs read my reviews, I just carried on regardless. I’ve enjoyed it, though, and I hope you have too.
For his second solo spot of the evening, Lewis sings Beyond The Sea. And for all Bill’s repetition that Lee is a great interpreter of a song, some of it’s clearly rubbed off here. A great big band swing number, and there’s a tremendous confidence there.
Zoe: “Vocally, you’ve picked yourself up… last week you were stunning, and you’re breaking my heart tonight.”
Bill: “You’ve matured and matured and matured… I hope the idiots who bullied you in school are feeling like that right now.” (Hear, hear!)
Andrew: “You’ve come through magnificently… you took that song with a maturity I would not have even dreamt of at the beginning of this programme.”
Next up, Keith performs Moondance, which has become a big band standard since Michael Bublé first covered it. And vocally, I think he’s stronger than Lewis in this style as in so many others — but yet again, I find myself easily distracted when watching him on stage. This is one performer where as little choreography as possible works to his benefit; is that really what the West End needs?
Denise: “Hot, hot, hot! You sing well, and you move great.”
John: “Joseph doesn’t really dance around this much, he just sings ballads, and you are the best singer of ballads.” (Are we finding just a Joseph, or an overall West End star? This is the question that the BBC always struggled with)
Andrew: “You’ve got this incredible voice, but you’re not necessarily a natural dancer.”
The final big band number comes from Lee, with New York, New York — and another song that starts too low for his voice. Once it reaches a more comfortable register, though, his acting chops really come through. From a poor start, he quickly recovers to deliver a barnstorming number that defines the term “showstopper”.
Bill: “I know what you’ve given up to take on this competition… I should have seen back then, what everybody else has seen for the last eight weeks. You are not an understudy, you are a star.”
Zoe: “That was an amazing performance. There couldn’t have been a finer song to show off your fine, fine voice.”
John: “Frank and Liza, move over for Lee!”
Andrew: “You’re a fantastic performer… a great showman.”
So with two songs each, the lines are about to freeze, but first we have a group performance of West Side Story’s Maria. Lee gets the choicest lines, but deserves them: Lewis keeps up, but Keith shows his inexperience, coming a poor third by comparison.
As the lines are frozen and the votes counted, last year’s How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? winner, Connie Fisher, turns up live in the studio (I hope the Palladium audience is happy with Aoife in her place). At this point, she was in Lee’s position — clear favourite with two good performers nipping at her heels. Will the same happen this time? As the results come in, Lee is through. In third place, and out now in the first programme of the evening, is Lewis. Personally, I think that wasn’t the right decision — but now, between Lee and Keith, it’s imperative that Lee wins.
As Lewis hands his coat back, I look forward to whatever he does next. Something tells me it won’t be too long before he’s a major star.
In the second show, Keith and Lee have to give an encore performance of what they thought was their best performance of the series.
Keith goes with Always On My Mind from week 7. It certainly appeals to strengths — an evocative ballad with little to no movement on stage. BUt how on earth can he compete with Lee, who reprises Paint it Black from week 8. Lee’s performance not only showcases his acting ability, but it’s the epitome of the perfect song for the series — a pop song known to the non-musical-savvy section of the audience, but carried with all the weight and conviction that only a true musical theatre performer can deliver.
The ten eliminated Josephs reunite for The Boys Are Back In Town, and each shows how much better they can be when the pressure of competing isn’t weighing on their shoulders. I genuinely have missed some of them. Although in just a couple of weeks, Craig seems to have put on a fair bit of weight… Andrew fluffs a joke aimed at ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent (and very good it is too), currently playing on the other channel, while introducing the remaining finalists’ duet of Jesus Christ Superstar. Keith takes the lead, and you really can see that sparkle in his eyes come and go. At times, he’s 100% engaging, but it switches off in an instant. Would it, I wonder, be that visible to a stage audience? The judges have picked up on it in previous weeks, so I’d guess so. Lee kicks into high gear with his portion of the song. It really is an acted performance, rather than a sung performance with moves. Can there really be any doubt at this stage who deserves to win? Graham turns to Andrew, who refuses to be drawn on who is better. Wimp(!)
After a great VT recap of the last eight weeks of live shows (sniff!), we come to the result. And Lee, deservedly, gets the crown. As I said before, it’s not about him having been a professional before he started — if anything, that made it a greater risk for him to even embark on this most peculiar of audition processes. I don’t think it’s any secret that my particular favourite went out a few weeks ago, but the look on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s face says it all for everybody — it was a great choice, and Lee Mead, like Connie before him, will doubtless be a West End fixture for years to come. And as we end with the show’s first live rendition of Any Dream Will Do — ironically, initially delivered a little sharply — it caps a great series of shows that has helped get the concept of musical theatre into many more living rooms. It’s not a perfect format but, as ITV has shown, it’s a lot better than it could have been…
- All Grease is the Word and Any Dream Will Do fans — stay tuned to The Stage online, and in print, for some great content in the weeks to come…