The casts of 11 West End shows took to the main stage of Kids Week Covent Garden today on day two of the free mini-festival which launches the Kids Week fortnight.
Kerry Ellis from Wicked, Laura Michelle Kelly from The Lord Of The Rings, Duncan James from Chicago, the Billy boys, the casts of Mary Poppins, Mamma Mia! and The Lion King, the girls from Little Shop Of Horrors, Connie Fisher from The Sound Of Music and Lee Mead from Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat all performed live on stage in Covent Garden piazza in front of a large crowd.
Clive Rowe, West End regular and current Amos Hart in Chicago, hosted the event today and summed up the importance of Kids Week, the fortnight which offers children the chance to see top London shows for free. “I just think it’s very important that kids get access to theatre,” he told Official London Theatre. “We know that children love theatre, it would be naïve of us to think that theatre prices are something that is enticing families into theatre. We want them to come, and theatres need to make money – we understand that – and the beauty of Kids Week is it’s a chance for those families who can’t afford those prices with two, three children, to bring them down to London and get to see shows at such a cut-price, which is incredible.”
Kerry Ellis, who plays Elphaba in Wicked and performed the song The Wizard And I from the show, was delighted by the young fans who turned up to watch her on stage, and hopes seeing Wicked will inspire them: “The letters and the pictures that I receive are brilliant and hopefully that will inspire kids to move into a bit of creativity themselves,” she said. Though she wasn’t in full Elphaba make-up and wig, she wasn’t totally un-witch-like. “I’ve got green boots on, and green nail varnish. I’ve come with a suggestion!”
While Ellis told us she was “about two” when she first got interested in musical theatre, Lee Mead, Joseph himself, said it was at the age of nine or ten when he first saw a show – which happened to be Joseph – and was inspired to take to the stage. Speaking exclusively to Official London Theatre he said: “I don’t know the exact moment when I knew I wanted to be on stage but I just loved watching musicals and singing and acting. Oliver! was the first film that I saw as a kid, with mum, going downstairs to watch it on TV – I must have been about seven. My first show I saw was Joseph and then I saw more musicals after that.”
“It’s a good start for [kids] to see a show in the West End. It was for me, growing up, I used to catch the train from Southend and come down and see the West End,” he added.
It has all been a bit of a whirlwind since Mead first put on his Technicolor Dreamcoat, but he is finally getting a chance to relax: “There wasn’t enough time to reflect really on what happened, because it was all so rushed. I finished the live programme, the day after I was doing the pop video for the song, Any Dream Will Do, and then Monday it was straight to rehearsals, so there was no time to relax. It’s nice now to look back on what I’ve done so far.”
He has also had to get used to his new found fame – illustrated today by the cheers that greeted his appearance on the main stage. “I’d say the only thing that’s changed is my lifestyle really, getting used to being recognised, but I haven’t changed as a person. You have to learn to adapt and accept things more, like seeing people in the street and they know you before you know who they are.”
"I used to catch the train from Southend and come down to the West End" – Lee Mead
For all those kids hoping to follow in Mead’s footsteps to the West End he advises: “The key thing is to have fun. Don’t take it too seriously when you are starting up because I think that happens a lot where kids feel pressured to achieve early on. Then there reaches a point where, if you’re going professional, you have to train and take that next step, but that will happen naturally. The key thing is to enjoy yourself and keep that passion for performing, because the second I lose that, that’s when I’ll probably give up you know!”
Connie Fisher, who, like Mead, won her West End role through a reality television contest, was equally passionate about the importance of theatre for kids. The Sound Of Music star told us: “At the end of the day they are always going on about kids keeping fit and everything, this is a great way to keep them off the streets and keep them fit and get them interested in something. I think musical theatre is something you can grow up with. You can go to the theatre every weekend and see something new.”
According to Fisher (herself eager to see former Blue star Duncan James), there are plenty of avid young musical theatre fans out there: “I get a lot of kids at the stage door every night going ‘I’m auditioning next time for Gretel or for Louisa or for Friedrich’ – they all want to be in The Sound Of Music.”
Other stars performing today included the cast of The Lord Of The Rings, with Laura Michelle Kelly, who plays Galadriel. The actress enjoyed her time on the main stage, saying: “It’s really amazing seeing so many children, their eyes just fixed on you, and it’s just really brilliant that they can make the most of these free tickets that are going on for the next two weeks. I think that’s really vital for our next generation of performers and even stage decorators and costume designers and all sorts of things. They need to be able to come and see this to get excited.”
For American actor Gavin Creel, Bert in Mary Poppins, the challenge of the day was to ad-lib to the crowd with a British accent, a task he mastered so expertly you would be forgiven for thinking he was a Londoner. “That was the one thing I was most nervous about because I was like, if I slip into an American dialect Scarlett [Strallen – Mary Poppins] needs to save me!” he told us afterwards.
Creel, who has been with Mary Poppins since July 2006, is excited that he gets to stay with the musical until it closes in London next January. “Then I’ll move home and cry for about two months because I’m going to miss this place so much!” he said.
Kids Week starts today and runs until 31 August, during which time one child can go free to a top London show when accompanied by a full-paying adult, and a second child can go half-price. Though booking has been open for some time, a limited amount of tickets are still available. For more information and to book, visit www.kidsweek.co.uk
For more photos from Kids Week Covent Garden check the Kids Week website on Monday.