Hayden Tee is an international musical theatre star and recording artist.
Originally from a small rural town in the Northland region of New Zealand’s North Island, Tee has chalked up a slew of impressive achievements, performing in blockbuster musicals on stages around the world.
Tee is best known to local audiences for his Green Room Award-winning portrayal of Javert in the recent Australian production of Les Misérables. Opposite Simon Gleeson’s Jean Valjean, Tee played the role for the 19-month Australian run, which included successful seasons in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and Brisbane.
But this was only the start of Tee’s journey as the righteous Inspector Javert. Ultimately, he’d take his interpretation of the character to Broadway, the West End and Dubai. And, just this month, Tee has again returned to Javert in a new production of the Boublil and Schönberg classic in Auckland.
Tee describes his chapter as Javert as “an absolute dream come true”.
“It’s a role that I never thought I would ever play,” he tells Theatre People.
Turning his mind back to when it all began with Les Mis in Australia, Tee recalls receiving a phone call while visiting family in New Zealand, from his agent, who told him of the creative team’s interest in seeing him audition for the role. Within days, he was across the Tasman, auditioning for Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who offered him the coveted role in the room.
Once he’d been cast in the Australian production, it became Tee’s goal to play Javert on Broadway.
“I went to New York to see the production there before we started in Australia,” he says. “I hid a little note in a seat in the Imperial Theatre, … an affirmation … that said, ‘Dear Hayden, congratulations on your Broadway debut as Javert in Les Mis’, and I dated it March 2016 … I went off to do the Australian Tour and then I beat my own affirmation by two months – I ended up going to Broadway in January.”
Discussing how the opportunity to join the Broadway production came about, Tee remembers a conversation he had with Mackintosh the day after the tour’s Sydney opening.
“I said, ‘You know I have a Green Card, and it would be a dream come true to play this role on Broadway. I want to ask your advice [as to] what I can do to improve my performance to get there’,” Tee says. “I was really looking for direction and advice, and he just said, ‘I think you’re a wonderful Javert and you’ve given me an idea’, and that’s all he said.”
Australian producer of Les Mis, Michael Cassel, later delivered the good news to Tee.
“It was my birthday, and Michael Cassel took me out for lunch,” says Tee. “He said, ‘Look, Hayden, I’ve got some news. Unfortunately, we’re not going to take you to Asia anymore’, and I honestly thought I was losing my job. And he said, ‘because Cameron wants you to go to Broadway instead’.
“Once I was on Broadway, all of a sudden, the offer came through for Dubai, and then when I was in Dubai, the offer came through for the West End, and then when I was there, they said, ‘Will you stay a little bit longer?’”
Tee emphasises his gratitude for the opportunity to play Javert around the world.
“I come from a little village of 800 people in New Zealand, where I didn’t even think it was possible to be paid to do what I loved. I always thought that I would just do amateur theatre,” he says. “So, I’m always just pinching myself. The fact that I can do the thing in life that really makes me happy and make a living out of it is everything to me.”
While on a break from the West End production of Les Mis, Tee was invited to return to Australia to take part in Luckiest Productions’ 30th anniversary staging of Only Heaven Knows at Sydney’s Hayes Theatre Co, playing the roles of Lana and Lea Sonia.
“I’m a massive supporter of the Hayes,” Tee says. “I absolutely love what they do, I love that they’ve had such a part in regenerating musical theatre in Australia, much like the Menier Chocolate Factory has in London.
“I had always wanted to do a show [at the Hayes]. It was just waiting for the right show and waiting for the times to work. The dates worked perfectly, and it was completely different to Javert, which is what I wanted.”
In September 2018, Tee joined the long-running London production of Matilda The Musical as the villainous school principal, Miss Trunchbull. It’s a role Tee had wanted to take on since he sat in the audience of the first preview on Broadway and fell in love with the show.
Unfortunately, he was unable to audition for Matilda in New York.
“They had a height restriction,” Tee says. “It was 6 ft 3 in. and above when they were looking for a replacement for Bertie [Carvel – the actor who originated the role on both the West End and Broadway]. I’m 6 ft 1 in.
“I [then] couldn’t audition for it in Australia because I was playing Javert and had been contracted for Broadway at that point.”
Eventually, Tee got the chance to audition to play Miss Trunchbull on the West End.
“When the audition came up, I sent a video and then I flew over for three weeks for seven call-backs,” he says. “I’ve never been called back so much for a role.”
Tee elaborates on the audition process.
“They actually direct you and block you in,” he explains. “For Matthew Warchus, the director, to come in and approve you, everyone is pretty much blocked in. He likes to see them as a finished product, which is why there are the seven call-backs – they rehearse you into it.”
Are there other roles in musical theatre on which Tee has set his sights?
“People always ask, ‘What’s your dream role?’ I used to say Phantom all the time, and I’ve now come to terms with the fact that I’m actually never going to play Phantom,” he says. “I think I’m a little bit long in the tooth now and I don’t think it’s maybe quite as good a match as I’d thought.
“I now don’t like to say what roles I want because I feel I’ll jinx myself. But I do have my eye on a couple of things.”
While not having seen the show, Tee says he’s loving the cast recording of Tootsie, the musical based on the 1982 film that opened last September on Broadway. He also mentions Mrs Doubtfire, which arrives in New York in March 2020.
“I have no idea if either of those roles are actually appropriate, but I know they’re things that appeal to me,” he says.
On top of his stage commitments, Tee has been busy recently working on his latest album, Face to Face, which was released on 8 November. The album, Tee’s third, has been three years in the making.
“Nigel Ubrihien, my arranger and long-time musical director and collaborator, and I have been working together for about 18 years,” Tee says.
The pair decided the album would be a collection of ‘big’ musical theatre songs. The album features a duet with musical theatre star John Owen-Jones and sees Tee backed by a 63-piece orchestra. The tracklist includes songs from the shows in which he’s had starring roles, including Les Mis and Matilda, as well as numbers by Jason Robert Brown, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Adam Guettel, and Kander and Ebb.
In a one-night-only concert on 8 December at Sydney’s Eternity Playhosue, Tee will perform these songs live in Up Close and Intimate, Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s flagship cabaret event. Ubrihien will accompany him on piano and Karella Mitchell will play cello.
This is the first time Sydney audiences have had the chance to see Tee on stage since Only Heaven Knows. He wrote the show recently before beginning Les Mis rehearsals in Auckland.
“I had a week in Tahiti to ‘de-Trunch’, I called it,” he says. “After two days of doing nothing but lying by a pool, I thought, ‘I’m needing to do something creative’. I drove Nigel crazy with many, many emails of arrangement ideas and the show’s completely written.”
Tee talks about what ticketholders can expect from the setlist.
“It’s got quite a few [songs] from the album, of course, it’s got a couple from our older albums as well, a couple of favourites that we just want to do because we love to do them, [and] it’s also got a couple of numbers from our next album.”
The next album?
“It is largely made up of songs that were cut from this one,” Tee says. “It’s all songs that I would never be able to sing in a musical, I’ll say that. There’s definitely more of a concept to it, but they are roles that I would never be cast in.”
As well as being a performer, Tee is also a makeup artist and says he’s now working hard to bring his two lives together.
“I love both of my careers and I’ve gotten to a point now where I’m almost 40, where I’ve achieved some big things with Broadway, with Javert, but I’ve also designed makeup for 14 designers at New York Fashion Week as a key artist,” he says.
“It’s time to do all the things that make me happy.”
Photo credit: Jake Weisz
HAYDEN TEE – UP CLOSE AND INTIMATE
Date and time: Sunday 8 December 2019, 7:30pm
Venue: Darlinghurst Theatre Company – Eternity Playhouse, 39 Burton Street, Darlinghurst
Phone bookings: (02) 8356 9987
Online bookings: www.darlinghursttheatre.com/whats-on/hayden-tee-up-close-and-intimate
Face to Face is now available at online musical outlets and at www.haydentee.com
To see Hayden Tee showcasing his talents as both a performer and a makeup artist, click here