Luke Bayer, for the relatively uninitiated, like yours truly, started young. There’s a photo of him as a teenager on ‘The X-Factor’, in which he’s clearly in distress, that still does the rounds. At the time, the Daily Mail, perhaps predictably, was unimpressed. Apparently siding with Luke and other contestants, an opinion piece thundered, “Simon Cowell and his team have taken the provision of low grade entertainment to new depths of manipulation and callousness”, dismissing the Saturday night reality television music competition as “emotional exploitation at its most cynical”.
Luke (first name terms, you understand, as he’s so warm and likeable – loveable, even – that calling him ‘Bayer’ just feels, as he would put it, ‘ridiculous’) has done well for himself since then. I’d only seen him live once before, at a performance of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie on Shaftesbury Avenue, a show I’d wanted to go back to having seen it in its previous incarnation at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. In the opinion of WhatsOnStage’s Alun Hood, Luke’s portrayal of the lead role of Jamie New topped even that of the sublime John McCrea.
Now, John might have won the 2018 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical if Hamilton hadn’t dominated across the board (and with justification, to be honest) – he did, at least, pick up the WhatsOnStage Award that year in the same category. Anyway, when I saw the show again, the audience roared and roared their approval at the end, and it took several rounds of Luke putting his forefinger to his lips before we would even let him finish the final number. Not your typical Monday night audience reaction.
I was only seeing him in his own show, his second visit to Live at Zedel, because a friend was too unwell to attend. I like to think I was, in effect, personally invited (albeit at the last minute) and what fun was had. The truth of the matter was that Luke had sold out before I’d gotten around to booking. There’s already talk of ‘Zedel Round Three’, though at the very least he’ll have to do more than one performance in order to not disappoint too many people who are bound to be met with the dreaded words ‘Sold Out’. Or just book a larger venue.
There’s a very natural and easygoing nature about Luke. Perhaps a more up-close-and-personal performance venue like Zedel helps. The audience rapport is brilliant, and while most performers would let minor infractions pass uncommented, Luke seemed to revel in pointing them out (though the thing about a younger man ‘tripping over’ is that he’s up again before he ever even went down). This in turn, paradoxically, made him all the more endearing, and while I can only imagine putting on one’s own show would be quite a nerve-racking experience, I could sense the audience willing him on however ‘clumsy’ things got.
I’m reliably informed there was more of a narrative the first time Luke took to the stage at Zedel. On this occasion, the music and lyrics did most of the talking, and with an impressive array of guest singers, there was a lot to get through. A three-piece band glides through the many and varied numbers – ranging from a duet version with Natalie Paris of a song from Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ Six to a tune from the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, sung with elegance by Les Misérables’ Amara Okereke. It is also worth mentioning an 18-year-old winner of an online competition Luke held to sing with him on stage, and Guildford School of Acting finalists Martha Kirby, Danielle Fiamanya and Cameron Burt, whom Luke was at pains to refer to as ‘friends’, nothing less and nothing more.
Luke’s last ‘Jamie’ dates have been confirmed, and then what? All we can do is wait and see. But I suspect it won’t be long before he’s ‘out of the darkness, into the spotlight’ again.