Musical theatre star Hayden Tee is best known for his award-winning portrayal of Javert in Les Misérables, which he played in Australia, on Broadway, in London’s West End, and in New Zealand and Dubai. He has just finished playing Miss Trunchbull in the West End production of Matilda, and recently released a new album called Face to Face. Next month, he returns to Sydney – where he was last seen in 2017 when he played drag queen Lea Sonia in Alex Harding’s musical Only Heaven Knows at the Hayes Theatre Co – to perform a cabaret show called Up Close and Intimate at the Darlinghurst Theatre Company. He spoke to Limelight:

Hayden Tee. Photograph © Jake Wiesz

Your new album Face to Face is your third album, but your first dedicated to musical theatre. Can you tell us why the time felt right to do that now?

I think that in my 20s, some part of me wanted to be in a boy band, so I covered lots of pop music. I still enjoy doing theatrical versions of that genre, but my heart is rooted in musical theatre and it was time to do an album dedicated to that.

You say in your notes that it took you three years to complete. Why did it take that length of time?

There are few reasons why this album has taken over three years to complete. I have funded the entire project myself, so I was paying for different parts of the process as I earnt money doing eight shows a week in musicals. I recorded the vocals in different countries depending on where my musical director and arranger Nigel Ubrihien or I were working at the time. And I haven’t been in a rush, I knew I wanted to take the time and get it right, not perfect but tight. The right reflection of where I am right now creatively.

How did you decide on which tracks to include? And how hard was that – you must have had a much longer list than the final cut?

Nigel and I had a long list of potential songs. We knew we wanted to represent a number of composers and lyricists, so we looked at our list to locate a theme. It became apparent the songs that spoke to us most were those sung by antagonists and/or rebels. When we took all the others away, we were left with our track list.

Hayden Tee. Photograph © Jake Wiesz

Was it your choice to use a symphony orchestra?

Yes, we had recorded with the Budapest scoring orchestra using 23 pieces for our makeup music video of the Lucas Graham song 7 years. Thrilled with the results, we asked what other configurations we could use and decided on a 63-piece symphony for the album.

Can you tell us about Nigel Ubrihien’s arrangements?

Nigel is a genius! I am constantly in awe of the magic he creates. Nigel used a standard symphonic instrumentation, but added mandolin, vibraphone, sogo drum and celeste to make a symphony orchestra sound like a dirty big band in The Smell of Rebellion from Matilda or the soundscape of a slave auction in Molasses to Rum from 1776. In It All Fades Away from The Bridges of Madison County, we even juxtapose a Dvořák symphony with country to represent the two characters, who are from different worlds but belong together. Each arrangement is such a unique journey.

You have worked with Nigel a lot over the years – were you keen to have him involved?

I would not do this album without Nigel. We have been collaborators for 16 years and work so well together. We work in many different ways depending on the situation and circumstances. When writing a show together, such as the one we have created for Darlinghurst Theatre Company, it takes hundreds of Facebook messages and links to songs or sheet music as we nut it out from different countries around the world. We have an idea of what we want to say and how. If we hit a creative wall and are in the same city, we’ll sometimes jam over vodka and tonic until it takes shape. Some of our favourites have been created this way. When it comes to performing on stage together, we both feel pretty safe and confident. We can read each other pretty well by now and always navigate the show as a team.

Where was the album recorded?

The orchestra was recorded in Budapest in one day (two days after I closed as Javert in Les Misérables in the West End) nine tracks in nine hours (except Smell of Rebellion which was added later). Then the vocals for some were added in Melbourne at Rockcandy Studios, in London at Dean St Studios, or in Sydney at Kings Cross studios. They were then mixed and mastered at the Umbrella studios in London and pressed at Broadway records in New York.

You have said that the final track How Glory Goes is for your late grandmother. I know she helped raise you. Can you tell us about her, and why you wanted to dedicate the song to her?

I lived with my grandmother Joyce Brooks from the ages 11 through 16. My entire family have always been incredibly supportive, but it was my nan who introduced me to theatre and was instrumental in me becoming confident in who I am. I owe her my entire life. She built me up and taught me to hold my head high; to celebrate my differences; to be gracious and generous; that life is not a competition; and that everyone can find what they love and succeed at it.

How Glory Goes was recorded in Melbourne. It was the last one to be recorded during that trip because I had put it off. It was a little too real. I was at home in New Zealand helping nurse her through her final months at the time and this song directly deals with mortality, faith and life after death. She was in my mind when I recorded it and she passed away shortly after on the morning of my opening night in Matilda in London.

For Lily’s Eyes you duet with John Owen-Jones. When did you first meet him and why did you want him involved?

I first met John when I was lucky enough to play Marius opposite his Jean Valjean in Les Misérables in the West End in 2005. Fast forward to 2016 and we played and closed Les Misérables on Broadway as Valjean and Javert and again later in Dubai. We had known each other for years, but became really close in New York, I am so thrilled to have created something with him as artists and friends. Love the guy!

Is The Secret Garden a show you’d like to perform in?

I would love to, one day!

Will you sing some of the songs from the album in your cabaret show Up Close and Intimate at the Darlinghurst Theatre Company?

Absolutely! Nigel and I will do a few songs from the new album, a couple of our old favourites and new stuff we have prepared for this show and for our next album. Yes, we are already discussing the next album. Ha!

What will be the format of the show? Will you be talking about your career?

I wrote the entire show whilst staying in a treehouse in Tahiti. Poor Nigel was inundated with Facebook messages. I will touch on a couple of roles (some Sydney haven’t seen) and I will successfully conclude the love trilogy of my life. However, most importantly, this show is a celebration – a celebration of friendship, of the album, of who I am today and who I want to become as an artist and a person. We are pushing a few boundaries and I am determined to be my authentic self, makeup, music and all!

You have performed on Broadway and in the West End as well as in Australia, New Zealand and Dubai. Where are you based now? And where would you most like to live?

That is a hard question because it changes regularly, both where I want to be and where I literally am. Essentially, I am happiest when I am working. I love to work. If I’m working I am happy almost anywhere. I live a life that travels between all these places in an effort to ensure I can work as much as possible. It is less about where I want to be and more about what I want to be doing. Saying that, I am renovating a tiny house – “a shed” – on a couple of acres of family property in New Zealand. I want to have somewhere I can unpack and a base where I can hide in the middle of nowhere and sing nude at the top of my lungs at 4am without disturbing anyone if I want. It is far from ready and not even able to be lived in yet, but it will be my little New Zealand native paradise project, only 21 square metres, the same size as some of my apartments in NYC or London, but on two acres in the middle of nowhere facing the sunset.

What do you have coming up next?

I am touring Australia in December and January and then I go back to New York City in February with this new show to promote the album and to satisfy my cravings for a cabaret setting. I spend so much of my life pretending to be other people, it’s important to get up on stage and inhabit myself sometimes. It’s cheaper than therapy too. Other than that, I will be renovating my tiny house and doing what all actors do – auditioning for things in all the right places until something I’d like to do wants to do me too.


Hayden Tee’s album Face to Face is available via digital outlets and at haydentee.com

He performs Up Close and Intimate at Darlinghurst Theatre Company on December 8: TICKETS

Read the December issue of Limelight to discover which four albums Hayden Tee chose for our What I’m Listening To This Month column