There are few roles in the musical theatre canon as masculine and tough as Javert, the scary and steadfast police officer in Les Miserables.
New Zealand-born musical theatre performer Hayden Tee has been playing the role since 2014, first as part of the Australian cast, then on an international tour, and finally on Broadway and the West End.
Tee is currently taking a brief break from the West End production of Les Miserables and has returned to Australia, his adopted homeland, to take on a show further from Javert than Sydney is from the West End.
He’ll be performing the dual roles of Lana and Lea Sonia in the Hayes Theatre’s new production of the Australian musical Only Heaven Knows, penned by Alex Harding in 1988.
“Lana is incredibly effeminate and quite grand,” Tee says. “He’s unashamedly homosexual, especially for the 40s and 50s, and very funny. He deals with things with humour and avoids realness.”
“I have some similarities with every character, but Javert is pretty far from me on a day-to-day basis, whereas Lana is… pretty close.”
“[I]t’s not standing in someone else’s costumes and walking to somebody else’s spotlight cue, we’re building it, and that’s the actor’s dream.”
The character has even been turned into a New Zealander for this production.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played a character that’s quite so close to home which is, at times, a little terrifying.”
Lana is one of the people who the show’s protagonist, the young playwright Tim, meets when he moves to Sydney. Tim becomes part of a community of queer people and misfits in Kings Cross.
Tee had a similar journey to Sydney as an 18 year old, when he moved to study musical theatre at NIDA.
“It’s very much a story that I relate to, about a young person coming to Sydney,” Tee says. “It’s still happening now — Sydney is still a place that people come to to find their own community and find their family.”
Tee also plays the ghost of the popular female impersonator Lea Sonia, who was a headline star of Sydney’s Tivoli Theatre until her death in 1941. Lea appears as a kind of narrator, as well as a spirit overseeing the events of the play.
“She was American-born and European trained, mostly in France, and then came to Australia and became a massive sensation until she was killed as part of a hate crime,” Tee says. “During a brownout in World War III, she was pushed in front of a tram.”
It’s these stories from Sydney’s history — the dark as well as the triumphant — that inspired the musical and this brand new production directed by Shaun Rennie. And it was also this subject matter that inspired Tee to return to Australia.
“Firstly, it’s Australian, and it’s also a story that I feel is very important, especially at the moment, the way the world is and because Australia is still striving for equality as one of the last developed countries in the world to recognise gay marriage.”
And after years of working in productions of Les Miserables designed and staged long before his involvement, Tee says he’s now relishing the chance to be in the room as this particular production is created.
“We’re creating something virtually from scratch,” Tee says. “So it’s not standing in someone else’s costumes and walking to somebody else’s spotlight cue, we’re building it, and that’s the actor’s dream.”
Photos by Johnny Diaz Nicolaidis