Life & Culture

Goodbye Bake Off, Matt Lucas’s going musical

Little Britain star has quit the GBBO tent and is launching a podcast about his favourite stage shows


When Matt Lucas upset the nation in December by announcing he was leaving Great British Bake Off after co-hosting three delicious series and 51 episodes of the show, he cited scheduling issues with other projects.

One of those projects is the comedian’s new role hosting the revived comedy show Fantasy Football League. Another is an exciting new podcast about musicals.

The former Little Britain comic has devised and co-presents Musical Heaven with his friend Rob Houchen, with whom he appeared in Les Miserables: The Staged Concert, at the Gielgud Theatre in 2019.

Each show at The Rada Studios (also where the first radio series of Little Britain was recorded) features a celebrity guest who chats with the hosts about their love of musicals.

“The first one they ever saw, the first they appeared in, the one they’d like most to appear,” explains Lucas. “Our chat is interspersed with live musical performances from West End stars Emma Kingston, Ashley Campbell and Emma Lindars.”

So far, the pair have interviewed Bonnie Langford, Rob Brydon and Fra Free, who recently took over from Eddie Redmayne as the Emcee in Cabaret at The Playhouse Theatre.

Next Sunday, we get to hear the musical musings of Jennifer Saunders at 2pm and, five hours later, those of JC columnist David Baddiel, whose 2010 film The Infidel, about a Muslim learning he is Jewish and an adoptee, got a musical makeover in 2014.

“When he was growing up, David’s favourite musical was Jesus Christ Superstar. I’m fascinated to learn why that story spoke to him as a young Jewish boy,” says Lucas.

Actually, Lucas is fascinated by musicals full stop. “I have such a love of them,” he tells me.

“Singing is something people sometimes do when they are too emotional to speak, so when stories are told through song it can be very powerful experience.

“And with the best musicals, you also get a great takeaway — a lovely, catchy song to sing.
Musicals come from opera, they are its pop version, if you like.”

Lucas got his first taste of operatic pop in 1981, when he was seven.

“My parents took me to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at Belsize Square Synagogue, where my grandmother was a member. I was blown away.”

A couple of years later they took him to see a professional production of the musical Oliver!.

“I didn’t necessarily understand all the undertones, the cruelty that Nancy was suffering at the hands of Bill Sykes, but I loved Consider Yourself, and the other songs.

“It was the same with The Sound of Music, which I also loved as a child. I identified with the children in the story and adored the song My Favourite Things, even if I didn’t appreciate the darker parts of the narrative until I was older.

"That’s another thing I love about musicals. Like a good book, you can revisit them over the years.”

By the time he saw a production of Fiddler on the Roof in the mid-1990s, with the legendary Israeli actor Chaim Topol, who died last week, playing Tevye, Lucas was better able to understand the serious themes underneath the catchy tunes and exuberant choreography.

Joseph Stein’s story of the milkman’s attempts to maintain his religious traditions as cultural influences encroach upon his family’s lives is, of course, an entirely Jewish one.

But from the Gershwin brothers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Stephen Sondheim, John Kander, Fred Ebb and less feted talents such as Charles Strouse and Stephen Schwartz, the musical is also an almost exclusively a Jewish creation.

And as a proud Jew, this speaks to Lucas, who last year uncovered his family’s connection to the story of Anne Frank on the BBC1 show Who Do You Think You Are?

He is related to Werner Goldschmidt, a lodger the Frank family took in before they went into hiding.

“I have quite a traditional Jewish background,” he says. “My mother was secretary at Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue for years, my stepmother worked at its day centre, it’s where I had my bar mitzvah and I was a member of the Cub Scout pack that met in the building.

“Later, I became a madrich with RSY-Netzer [The Youth Movement for Reform Judaism].

"Until my comedy career took off, the synagogue was a very big part of my life. I made many lifelong friends at Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue and I have the fondest memories of that period in my life.

“Today I’d describe myself as a secular Jew, but my Jewish identity is still a very large part of what makes me tick. Many of my friends are Jewish and it’s something we talk about together. It was my birthday this month and we went to Reubens, in Baker Street, where I had the chicken soup. And can I say I’m still very much missing the recently closed Harry Morgan in St John’s Wood.”

Meanwhile, for the legions of fans who are missing Lucas’s comedic Jewish genius on the hit Channel 4 baking show, there is a softener. Friends actor David Schwimmer announced this week that he has signed up for this Sunday’s Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up to Cancer.

And there’s a second helping of fun in store for fans at the Bake Off Musical, which last week opened at the Noel Coward Theatre.

When he spoke to me, Lucas didn’t yet know if any version of him features in any the 16 songs written for the musical, but he said he’d savour the show, either way.

Tickets to Musical Heaven are available now.

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