Hayden Tee is one of those musical theatre performers that you go out of your way to see. His Javert in the recent Australian tour was a tour de force, and watching him perform The Smell of Rebellion in his new cabaret show, I wish to heavens that I’d seen his Miss Trunchbull in London recently.
He gives powerhouse performances of a number of musical theatre numbers in his new cabaret Hayden Tee – Up Close and Personal, but the show – which coincides with the release of his third album Face to Face – is about much more than that. It’s to do with his recent journey of self-discovery, about trying to find out who he really is and being true to that, about wanting to be “my complete self” as he puts it, and publicly acknowledge the things that make him happy.
Hayden Tee. Photograph © Sean Sinclair (Forespoke)
Last seen in Sydney in 2017 in the Australian musical Only Heaven Knows at the Hayes Theatre Co, Tee appears onstage wearing makeup. He is a makeup artist – something he has done professionally for even longer than perform on stage – and he is keen, he says, to embrace that alongside his theatre career. (He tells a very funny story about going out in London with “glitter lips”, which Musical Director Nigel Ubrihien assumed was a drag queen).
He also discusses “character hangover” – that strange space that actors often find themselves in, when they wonder where the character ends and they begin, and explains how he uses scent to differentiate the two.
Weaving personal stories through the show, the first act sees him deliver a series of songs as himself, among them Spark of Creation from Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden, a fun mash-up of Sunny Day (from Sesame Street, which he leaves unnamed in the song) and Sunshine Day from The Brady Bunch, and moving versions of Fine, Fine Line and Kander and Ebb’s I Don’t Care Much from Cabaret.
Hayden Tee. Photograph @ Sean Sinclair (Forespoke)
He is clearly a little nervous initially, but his performance feels very real, authentic and vulnerable, and there is a touching quality to his candour. However, he is far more settled after interval and the show really kicks in. He begins the second act with Molasses to Rum from the musical 1776, a number for a character called Edward Rutledge who Tee played for Pittsburgh Public Theater. It’s a dark, disturbing song advocating slavery and he absolutely slays it.
He is ruthlessly funny as Miss Trunchbull in The Smell of Rebellion from Matilda the Musical, displaying formidable comic chops, and his rendition of Empty Chairs from Les Misérables is heartfelt and haunting. Other highlights include Wig In A Box from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Stars, sung not as the imposing Javert but as himself.
Hayden Tee. Photograp © Sean Sinclair (Forespoke)
Tee has a gorgeous, smooth tenor with a luscious tone and a thrilling power, and he is able to use it with delicate nuance as well as raise the rafters. Nigel Ubrihien, who has been his Musical Director for years, did the clever arrangements and is the perfect accompanist on piano, with lovely support from cellist Karella Mitchell.
Hayden Tee performs in concert at the Star Theatre, Adelaide on December 20, Tyalgum Community Hall on January 4, and Gold Coast HOTA – Home of the Arts on January 6