Originally published in the December 20, 2007 issue of [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/features/feature.php/19380/lee-mead)
The winner of BBC1’s Any Dream Will Do, Lee Mead, took to the stage as Joseph – of Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat fame – in July. He talks to Scott Matthewman about becoming the West End’s leading man
“I was quite naive,” admits Lee Mead of his decision to surrender a West End chorus job in the risky move to participate in the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do. “I knew there was going to be a TV programme, but I thought there would be just a few cameras, maybe like a BBC2 thing. But it ended up being massive.”
Mead was very much the odd one out in the final line-up of 12 hopefuls vying for the title role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. While auditioning for the series, he was also performing in Phantom of the Opera, covering the role of Raoul.
“I was always up front and honest,” says Mead. “They knew from the beginning I was auditioning for the programme. I never expected to get to the last 12, but then I had to make a decision. They said, ‘Okay, but if you choose to be in the last 12, there’s no job for you’, even if I’d got knocked out in the first week.”
The offer of a place in the finals was one Mead discussed with family and his agent before accepting. “Initially, we were all wary, wondering if it would be good for me or not. I think with anything you do in life, whether it’s career related or not, you have to follow your gut.”
Mead left Southend’s Whitehall School of Performing Arts without graduating, and I suggest this may have toughened his resolve. The experience did, he agrees, give him a lot more drive. “I wouldn’t say it worked against me, but I thought I had more to prove and I had to work much harder. I didn’t walk straight into the West End, I started off at the bottom of the industry and worked my way up.”
While some of the less experienced contestants may have gained more experience from the intensive time in the BBC spotlight, Mead believes he still gained much from the project. “I learnt a lot about myself as a person. It was a strong test of character. You’re so exposed with so many people watching live, and in front of Andrew [Lloyd Webber] as well. I don’t think I’d have been strong enough to audition for that kind of process if I was younger. I have so much admiration for the younger guys like Lewis [Bradley] and the others. Initially, I wondered how the public would take somebody who had already been working professionally, but during the audition process there were hundreds of other guys who were working in musicals, in the chorus or covering leads, so I knew that wasn’t going to be an issue.”
Fellow finalist Bradley is now covering Mead in Joseph. Aside from scheduled appearances in 2008 while the star goes on holiday, Bradley had his first taste of the West End stage when Mead contracted bronchitis and missed several performances.
“Anyone that knows me knows I don’t like going off,” he says. “But I can’t be foolish. For me, I know that being off wasn’t through not looking after myself or living a mad lifestyle. From my very first audition back in February, through the live shows, the rehearsals, Children in Need, the album and all the pressures of the PR campaign, I’ve been working ten-hour days for pretty much the last six months. Obviously I picked up this bug, but luckily it cleared up quickly. To a degree, of course, I want to be on every show, because the fans are coming to see the show as well as myself.”
As a former understudy himself, can Mead recognise the opportunities that the lead’s illness can bring to the covering actor.
“For a lot of lead people, you can get a bit insecure and think, oh, someone’s playing my role, or playing the part I’ve been cast in. It comes down to yourself and if you’re confident in who you are. How someone else is going to play that role will be completely different to how I play it. It doesn’t worry me, but,” he smiles, “I have missed being on there.”
The role is one that he seemed destined for, it having been his first musical in more ways than one.
“It was the first I saw, when I was ten or 11, and it really touched me. I did the touring production with Bill Kenwright in 2004, and that was my first musical role. I was playing Brother Levi and Pharaoh, but I always wanted to play Joseph even then.” Now, of course, the same show brings him his first West End leading role.
Outside of the theatre, his debut album, which recently went gold, defied expectations in not being a disc of show tunes. “That was for various reasons, really. I love musical theatre, it will always be part of my life and it’s what I’ve always done. But I wanted to show that there’s more to me. Doing a musical theatre album would have been the obvious decision, and I may do one at some point. But it’s nice to show another side.”
There are discussions for TV and film projects – “It’s all meetings and things at the moment” – but a second album, and possible tour after Joseph, seem likely.
One question that has hung around the big TV talent contests, of course, is their value to the West End. Mead is adamant that, while he can see both sides of the argument, he believes the shows have opened up options for people within the industry, allowing trained professionals to rise through the ranks. “It’s worked twice now [with himself and Connie Fisher in The Sound of Music], so they must be doing something right.
“It’s also bringing a whole new audience to theatre, which I believe is a good thing. But what you hope is that they’ll go on to think, oh, I’ll go and see Phantom now, when they didn’t think they liked any musicals before.” He cites friends of his father as an example. “They had never seen a show in their life, but they came to see Joseph and now they’re booking up to see other shows in the West End. That is really good.”
With news of a third BBC/ Lloyd Webber collaboration on the cards, Mead admits he’s as curious as anybody to find out which musical will be featured next. “It’s important that it’s done well again. Touch wood, it’s worked so far. And while parts of the show were commercial, I think it was done in a good way and they were very careful.”
Mead has committed to Joseph until at least October 2008, part of the reason being, he says: “It’s the first time I’ve been working centrally like this. Apart from Phantom, of course, but I left halfway through. I love the role, it’s one I’ve always wanted to play and it felt natural to extend for a bit longer. We’re virtually sold out for a year as well – so many people who wanted to get tickets couldn’t, so I thought it’s nice for the fans to be able to book and see the show.”
Beyond that, Mead is careful to keep his options open. In terms of future West End roles, he says: “I’ve been lucky enough to cover the role of Chris in Miss Saigon, and I’d like to play that one day again and make the role my own. I’ve always wanted to do an original musical, which is something I’ve never had the opportunity to do.
“It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next year and a half to two years. It depends on what role I’m suitable for, and if I’m wanted.”