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Lee Mead took to the London Palladium stage for one night only

BWW Review: LEE MEAD, 40TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION, London Palladium From Any Dream Will Do to a dream come true,BWW Review: LEE MEAD, 40TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION, London Palladium Lee Mead took to the London Palladium stage for one night only, to celebrate his 40th birthday and his twenty-year career. Mead talked of walking past the theatre as a boy and his joy at being able to hold his own concert there.

I feel I must put this review into context. I have been a fan of Mead since the second live show of Andrew Lloyd Webber's television casting show Any Dream Will Do, back in 2007. That's more than half my life and a long stretch of his career. While I may not be strictly impartial, it's fair to say I went into the concert with high expectations, which were happily met.

Joe Pasquale made for a slightly surreal warm up act, painting an upside-down portrait of Judy Garland as Dorothy, while MD Adam Dennis played "If I Only Had a Brain" on the piano, and Pasquale told a series of scatological one-liners. His references to encounters with Mead seemed a little tenuous, but it was heart-warming that the comedian came out to support Mead, having unknowingly influenced him as a performer.

For anyone who's been a fan of Mead since his ADWD days, hearing the opening strains of "Paint It Black" - originally by The Rolling Stones - is enough to get your heart racing. Mead sauntered out, took hold of the mic stand centre stage, and slipped straight back into performing after a year and a half without an audience. This was the song which first showed the British public his intensity as a performer, which has endured through his many roles since. The effect was of old friends reunited: the song, the performer, the stage and his fans, all newly conjoined.

Lee Mead in concert
photo c. Marilyn Kingwill

The set list continued in a similarly strong fashion. Mead worked his way through some career highlights and threw in a few new tracks, enriched by a great selection of guests. Kerry Ellis was a brave choice for an invitee as she could steal any show in her sleep. The alumna of Wicked (and much else) came out wearing a short, gold, sparkly dress and sang Queen's "Somebody to Love". The audience didn't need much persuading as she asked them to sing along. One benefit of wearing a mask in the theatre is that you can join in as loudly and as out of tune as you want and you won't disturb the person sat two rows in front of you!

Marisha Wallace was a similarly spectacular choice. Also clad in gold sparkles, this time floor-length, she gave the audience another chance to join in with her rousing version of "This Is Me" (from The Greatest Showman). For fans deprived of live theatre for so long, being allowed to sing along to a catchy tune in a darkened theatre created a jubilant atmosphere.

The special guests were grouped together in the first and second acts, which could have been slightly better balanced. X Factor winner Dalton Harris - dressed in another fabulous, sparkling gold number - didn't receive quite the same reception, perhaps because he is less well known amongst Mead's demographic. He also sang a lesser-known song (Neil Sedaka's "Solitaire") and didn't invite us to join in.

Mead and Harris teamed up to perform "I'm Feeling Good" but Harris didn't sing enough of the song to justify a duet. That said, seeing the joy on the faces of the singers as they performed together made it absolutely worthwhile: their rapport whetted fans' appetites for their virtual show together, Closer Than Ever. Steve Balsamo also enjoyed a funny and easy back and forth with Mead as he took to the stage. They duetted on a collaborative song called "Snow in June", which seemed to capture the slightly nostalgic mood of the evening.

It took the crowd a while to warm up again in the second act. I personally thought Mead's version of Tom Jones' "Kiss" was fun, sexy and energetic but many in the stalls took a while to get into it. This was helped considerably by a casually smooth dance break, culminating in Mead taking off his jacket. He had a new suit for the occasion: blue, three-piece, white shirt with collar undone, and one fan protested a few songs later when he put his jacket back on.

There were times when Mead was noticeably rusty. He struggled to reach some of the lower notes in "All I Care About (Is Love)", from Chicago, and got the giggles part way through so couldn't do the whistling section. He brushed that moment off endearingly, as he did his false start on "Hushabye Mountain", when he underestimated the intro and came in too soon. Mead clearly loves being a father, so watching him act this song was very charming. He talked of singing it to daughter Betsy as he put her to bed every Sunday while touring with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Personal anecdotes abounded: Mead explained how his rendition of Adele's "When We Were Young" was inspired by memories of his grandparents; gave his take on his parents' wedding song; and shared recollections of Betsy growing up in the context of the shows he was working on at each stage in her life. Other highlights included his return to Wicked's Fiyero, with "Dancing Through Life": he still brings such fun to the character, skipping his way through the upbeat tune.

Towards the end, Mead gave his rendition of "Anthem" from Chess, his go-to audition song in the early days of his career which last night gave me goosebumps. That was followed by the "song that changed his career", and Mead got emotional as he reflected on being cast as Joseph, quickly rousing from his reverie to perform "Close Every Door".

Predictably, he ended with "Any Dream Will Do" though frankly, at this point, if he hadn't, it would be like going to see Elbow and them choosing to end on anything other than "One Day Like This". Mead quipped that he'd done the song in every concert he had performed: he knows this is his signature song and there's no point trying to escape what people want to hear. That in itself sums up the tone of the evening: fans thrilled to be back in the theatre, listening to charming renditions of the songs they know and love.

Lee Mead, 40th Birthday Concert played The London Palladium 10 June. His tour begins on 3 September

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