It can’t be easy telling your life story on stage. What to put in? What to leave out? What to emphasise, what to downplay, what to deliberately omit? These are the sorts of issues that Harry Kit Lee isn’t afraid to openly discuss in So This Is Who I Am. A broad range of musical styles reflects eclectic tastes and an equally eclectic career to date. Highlighted in this gig are stints in Little Shop of Horrors and Fame, though Harry has straight plays and television dramas under his belt too.
What struck me was the sheer sincerity with which Harry told his story. Sparse on detail about his biological father, for reasons outlined in the show, he later speaks with a similar level of discomfort about his late grandmother, paradoxically because they did get on so well. In short, the former is still with us but might as well not be, and the latter has departed but Harry still feels her presence. I understood what he was driving at when he expresses reservations about doing this show at all, because, as he points out, unless one is a mega superstar whose every move is tracked by celebrity chasing paparazzi, “Who cares?”
But everyone does have a unique story to tell, and there are plenty of us who don’t really care for the day-to- day movements of the great and the good. And as it turns out, Harry’s choices of topics have considerable gravitas, even when he focuses on supposedly negligible details about clumsiness or, to quote Carrie: The Musical (he sings a number from that show, and from many others) being a ‘dreamer in disguise’.
I couldn’t help laughing at an anecdote about refusing to answer equal opportunities monitoring forms. I like to have a bit of fun lying on such forms, ticking the ‘wrong’ boxes, by which I mean ones that don’t actually reflect me. Harry would rather not answer them at all, as he shan’t be contained in a box marked ‘male’ or ’25-39 years old’ or ‘Are you married or in a civil partnership? Yes/No’. Indeed, it is difficult to categorise what this show is – ‘autobiographical’ is the best I can muster, though even this doesn’t quite cover it. For instance, he ends with what I think is Fox Television’s Glee version of ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked (that is, significantly softer than the Broadway/West End belter rendering). It was included not to tell a story, and not because he was in a production of Wicked (if he was, he doesn’t say so), but because it was the winner of a Twitter poll. The other options, for the record, were ‘Anthem’ from Chess: The Musical, and ‘Beautiful Disaster’, presumably the tune made famous by the US recording artist Kelly Clarkson.
At face value, it would seem performing the rousing ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ minutes after ‘Bring Him Home’ would be quite jarring. But, with the accounts of various life events and themes abound, it all fits in snugly – it’s clear some thought has gone into this concert. Even when the order is inadvertently messed around, however, it still works. A case in point: the heart-rending ‘February Song’, made famous by Josh Groban, made the jaunty number that followed, ‘Bring On The Men’, from Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical, an appropriate antidote to the palpable sadness permeating amongst the audience. The frantic flicking of pages as a result of Harry getting a tad ahead of himself only served to add to the live experience.
Of worthy note is the mention and subsequent exploration of what Harry calls ‘being bipolar’ – he does not use the NHS term ‘disorder’, preferring ‘mental illness’. My knowledge of chart music being as sparse as it is, this was my first exposure to ‘Bang Bang’, a Grammy-nominated single, even more energetic than the tune immediately preceding it, the infinitely more familiar ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ from Funny Girl.
There’s an easy-going charm about Harry that lends itself well to this intimate venue, and I do hope this isn’t the last time So This Is Who I Am hits the London stage. A tremendous vocal, an extensive repertoire, and a great evening’s entertainment.
Review by Chris Omaweng
HARRY KIT LEE – ‘SO THIS IS WHO I AM’ – AN EVENING OF BROADWAY, WEST END AND A FEW OTHER SURPRISES – Sunday 5th February 2017, 5pm at Phoenix Artist Club, London.
Read our Q&A with Harry Kit Lee