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The reality of today’s West End stars

West End star Lee Mead is set to perform once again in The West End Men, a theatrical concert featuring songs from the West End and Broadway with the backing of a live band and choir. It is the latest move for Mead in a career which has shot to dizzying heights since he won the BBC series Any Dream Will Do in 2007. Prior to appearing on the TV casting show, Mead had played small roles in such touring productions as Tommy and Miss Saigon and was understudying the role of Raoul in the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera when he auditioned for ADWD. The show gave the unknown talent his first leading West End role playing Joseph in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s revival of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, in a performance which won him a mass of critical acclaim. After his successful 18 month run in the musical, Mead went on to further cement his rising star playing such roles as Fiyero in Wicked and Emmet in Legally Blonde. His self-titled solo album achieved double gold status and the follow-up release of two more albums in 2009 and 2012 were also big hits for the singer. Mead has also been a special guest vocalist in numerous concert events, including The West End Men. He toured in the show last year with fellow West End star Ramin Karimloo, keeping himself in very good company and showing just how far he has come since those early days performing as an ensemble member. It hasn’t yet been revealed who will appear alongside Mead in this year’s The West End Men, which runs at the Vaudeville Theatre from 25th May to 22nd June 2013, but it has been announced that Kerry Ellis will join him as a special guest star.

I’m not generally the biggest fan of reality shows, but there is no denying that they can certainly be an effective career path, as Mead proved. Any Dream Will Do turned a small-time stage performer into a West End leading man, successful recording artist and all-round household name. If Lee Mead made good out of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV show though, he was certainly not the only one.

There have been five different televised versions of The Lord’s casting competitions, starting with How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? (2006) and progressing with Mead’s appearance in Any Dream Will Do (2007), I’d Do Anything (2008), Over The Rainbow (2010) and the most recent Superstar (2012). The five winners found through these shows have all gone on to have varying levels of success in the musical theatre world.

After playing Maria in The Sound of Music, original winner Connie Fisher went on to perform in further productions such as They’re Playing Our Song (Menier Chocolate Factory) and Wonderful Town (UK Tour), as well as reprising her role as Maria in the UK tour of The Sound of Music. She has also released two solo albums: Favourite Things and Secret Love. Her career has been somewhat blighted though by medical problems with her voice, and in 2009, she underwent an operation on her vocal chords.

Jodie Prenger won the role of Nancy in Oliver! and performed in the musical for six of the eight weekly shows, following a stint in the ensemble of Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre to gain experience of performing on a West End stage. She spent 15 months playing Nancy and then moved on to take other roles such as The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot (New Wimbledon Theatre) and Dolly in One Man, Two Guvnors (Theatre Royal Haymarket), as well as making various TV appearances in such programmes as Candy Cabs, Waterloo Road and Hustle.

Danielle Hope is one of the more prominent winners of the TV shows after a critically acclaimed run as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. The youngest winner at only 18 year of age, she shared the role with runner-up Sophie Evans who was alternate Dorothy for one day each week. Hope has accrued an assortment of theatre awards for her performance in the musical and is now set to repeat her success playing Eponine in the West End production of Les Miserables, having already been nominated for Best Takeover in a Role in the Whatsonstage.com Awards.

Ben Forster is the latest in the line of winning performers. Having formerly appeared in such shows as Grease, La Cava and All You Need Is Love, the fifth of Andrew Lloyd’s winners was highly praised for his performance as Jesus in the arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. Following the run, he played Brad Majors in the 40th anniversary tour of The Rocky Horror Show and is set to reprise his role in the follow-up JCS tour this year.

It’s not only the winners who have gone on to carve out successful careers in the musical theatre world though. Many of the show’s runner-ups and other contestants have also made a name for themselves through their TV appearances, one of the first coming to mind usually being Samantha Barks, who came third in 2008’s I’d Do Anything. Losing out on the lead role in Oliver! didn’t stop her for long however. She went on to play Sally Bowles in the UK tour of Cabaret and is now best known for the role of Eponine in Les Miserables, having played the unlucky-in-love street urchin in the West End production and the 25th anniversary concert at the O2, as well as making her big screen debut after being offered the part in the Oscar Award-winning film adaption of the musical. She also did finally get to play Nancy in the UK tour of Oliver! although she had to leave the production early after securing the role of Eponine in the Les Miserables film.

There are numerous other performers who are now leading names on the West End stage. Helena Blackman and Siobhan Dillon are two of the big success stories from the first TV show, with runner-up Blackman having played such roles as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (Haymarket Theatre, Leicester), Nellie Forbush in South Pacific (UK Tour) and Helen in Saturday Night (Jermyn Street Theatre) as well as releasing an album and featuring in a number of concerts, cabarets and other albums. Dillon was second runner-up and went on to play Sandy in Grease (Piccadilly Theatre), Vivienne Westwood in Legally Blonde (Savoy Theatre) and Molly Jensen in Ghost The Musical (Piccadilly Theatre). Other big names include: Daniel Boys (Avenue Q, Peter Pan), Rachel Tucker (We Will Rock You, Wicked), Niamh Perry (Mamma Mia, Love Never Dies), Sara Lark (Oliver!, Les Miserables), Sophie Evans (The Wizard of Oz) and Lauren Samuels (Grease, We Will Rock You).

Whatever the downfalls of reality TV, its one major ‘pro’ is that it has given countless unknown names the opportunity to achieve their dream. How many of the former contestants of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows currently performing on West End stages would have made it there without that help and exposure? It’s a nice thought that true talent and hard work will always win out in the end, but the harsh reality is that there are thousands of people out there competing for roles on stage and not everyone who deserves to make it necessarily will. Looking at the talented performers that have been discovered through The Lord’s TV shows, it’s hard to say that reality TV can’t also be a force for good.

By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)

Thursday 18th April 2013

Author

  • MissJulie

    Julie is a theatre enthusiast, and is particularly keen on new writing. She writes articles each week for our website including a popular weekly ‘In Profile’ which features actors and actresses that are not in lead roles and are often in the Ensemble.

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