REVIEWER RATING: ★★★★
Hayden Tee has spent much of his career performing overseas. After playing Javert in the Australian Tour of Les Misérables to tremendous acclaim, the New Zealand-born musical theatre star reprised the role in the Broadway, West End and Dubai productions, before taking on the role of Miss Trunchbull in Matilda The Musical in London. In November, Tee picked up Javert’s baton once more for a New Zealand staging of Les Mis in Auckland.
For the first time in more than two years, Sydney audiences had the opportunity on Sunday evening to see Tee take the stage in their hometown. This time, however, it wasn’t in the context of a musical theatre production. Instead, Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Eternity Playhouse hosted a cabaret designed to give audiences the chance to get to know the man behind the roles. It was the first stop on a tour in which Tee shares a number of stories from his career to date and performs a slew of songs instantly recognisable to musical theatre fans. This tour coincides with the release of his third album, Face to Face, which includes a number of songs appearing on tour. Tee is joined on piano by long-time collaborator and musical director, Nigel Ubrihien, and cellist Karella Mitchell.
Split into two acts, Hayden Tee: Up Close and Intimate contains a wide-ranging mix of tracks, including the iconic numbers from Les Mis that earned him accolades as well as a host of new fans around the world. Early on in Act 1, there’s a good-humoured mashup of the Sesame Street theme with the Brady Bunch’s ‘Sunshine Day’. There’s an acoustic version of ‘How far I’ll go’ from the 2016 hit Disney film Moana, which seems rather lyrically apt for an artist who began life in a small rural town and has since ventured onto some of the world’s biggest stages. There’s also a wonderfully straight-forward delivery of ‘I don’t care much’ from Cabaret, preceded by Tee’s retelling of the tale of how Kander and Ebb came to write the track. Before we know it, Act 1 is done.
It’s in Act 2 we witness the standout moments of the show. It begins strongly with ‘Molasses to Rum’, a stirring number from the Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone-penned musical 1776 about the hypocrisy of criticising slavery while openly benefitting from the fruits of the slave trade. A further highpoint is Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, rendered as a theatrical ballad and differing slightly from the version on Tee’s 2009 album Generation WhY?He then tops that with a remarkable performance of ‘The Smell of Rebellion’ from Matilda, giving locals a taste of the fearsome force his Miss Trunchbull was at London’s Cambridge Theatre.
And then, of course, the highly anticipated Schönberg and Boublil classics have their moment. After recalling how he came to be cast as Marius in the West End production of Les Mis in 2005, Tee delivers a moving performance of ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’. Later in the night, he gives us ‘Stars’, performed in his natural tenor rather than the baritone of the character, and it’s the rousing and powerful prayer for justice we expect to hear.
What’s consistent through the evening is the strength and agility of Tee’s voice. He’s a dynamic performer, delivering songs with energy and passion where the music calls for it and, at other times, imbuing his vocals with more sensitivity. It all seems to come naturally to Tee, but it never feels like a phoned in effort. This is a world-class performer demonstrating how he’s risen to the top of his game.
Unlike many cabarets, Tee’s show isn’t scripted within an inch of its life. He tells the stories off the cuff and authentically interacts with his audience, allowing us to experience Tee’s warm and good-humoured nature. He talks about his process of getting in and out of character and relates a funny story about his father seeing him perform recently for the first time in Les Mis. He shares his determination to do all the things he loves, bringing together his performing endeavours with his make-up artistry (click here to see a project for which Tee has combined those talents). You get a sense, given his comments about this being his first time performing truly as himself, that the narrative aspects will continue to develop over the course of the tour, and it will be interesting to see where that takes the show.
Who knows which stage Tee will appear on next, but if his latest concert comes to a venue near you, be sure to catch what is a genuinely entertaining audience with one of Australasia’s most skilled performing artists.
Photo credit: Sean Sinclair (Forespoke)
Hayden Tee’s latest album Face to Face is now available on online music outlets and at www.haydentee.com
HAYDEN TEE – TOUR DETAILS
Venue: Star Theatre (145 Sir Donald Bradman Drive, Hilton)
Date and time: Friday 20 December 2019, 8pm
Click HERE to purchase tickets for the Adelaide show
Venue: Tyalgum Community Hall (1 Cudrigan Street, Tyalgum)
Date and time: Saturday 4 January 2020, 7:30pm
CLICK HERE to purchase tickets for the Tyalgum show
Venue: HOTA (135 Bundall Road, Surfers Paradise)
Date and time: Monday 6 January 2020, 7pm
Click HERE to purchase tickets for the Gold Coast show