Jordan Li-Smith sets course for West End stardom
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 May 2014
Chester student is bound for a career in West End musicals having won one of only two places on a prestigious course at the Royal Academy of Music
One defining moment in Jordan Li-Smith’s life came when he was just seven, sitting on his late father’s shoulders at an Elton John concert in Manchester.
‘I wanted piano lessons when I was five or six, but my mum and dad wouldn’t let me because they thought it was just a phase,’ says Jordan. ‘Then they got me tickets to see Elton John at the MEN Arena. He definitely inspired me.’
Elton leaned down from the stage to sign Jordan’s programme, and the youngster came away even more convinced that he wanted music in his life. His pleas for piano lessons were answered.
Twelve years on, aged 19, Jordan is an accomplished pianist, singer, dancer - an all-round song and dance man who hopes to one day create and stage his own musicals in the West End. The difference between him and a million other hopefuls with the same ambition is that Jordan has just been accepted for one of only two places on a Post Graduate Diploma in Musical Direction and Coaching at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
‘I’ll be learning all the skills of the trade to be a professional West End musical director - arranging, conducting, leading rehearsals,’ says Jordan, a student at The Hammond School, Chester - a specialist independent school, part educational, part vocational for those aiming for careers in dance, drama and music.
‘Hopefully, I’ll be making my way up the ladder to become a West End MD. I can’t wait for all the opportunities that will arrive simply from being at the Academy. From being an MD, my big goal is to write shows and put them on.’
Jordan is already writing a musical based on the life of Beatrix Potter, inspired by his childhood memories of camping and climbing in the Lake District with his parents.
After his early piano lessons, Jordan took singing lessons, and it was his singing teacher Frazer Ormondroyd, in Jordan’s home town of Wrexham, who suggested he go to The Hammond.
‘It was completely different to anything that happened to me before,’ he says of starting at the school, aged 11. ‘It was really inspiring. I’d be showing people stuff, and they’d be showing me stuff. I’m talking to people who understand me.’
In 2008, Jordan was persuaded to enter the BBC talent show I’d Do Anything, which picked Jodie Prenger as the Nancy for Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of Oliver! but also chose three boys for the part of Oliver. Jordan made it to the last dozen but failed to make the last eight.
‘It was a great experience. I have had contact with Cameron Mackintosh, I’m great friends with the “Nancies” and I keep in contact with just about everyone, especially Jodie Prenger.’
Though he missed out on the Oliver role, Jordan was offered a part in Fagin’s gang, which meant a six-month contract working at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
‘It was brilliant,’ he says. ‘Being part of a West End cast is one thing, but to be part of the original cast, and be part of the rehearsal process, to see how they create a show which has such high production values was great.
‘We were in the biggest theatre in London, at the time the biggest cast and, at the time, the fastest-selling show. It pretty much confirmed that I wanted a career in theatre.’
Of the show’s Fagin, Rowan Atkinson, Jordan says: ‘He is a gentleman, and to give you an example of that, when he came to the first rehearsal, he knew every single kid’s name. He’s on the ball, he’s friendly, polite, professional and good.’
Jordan came back to The Hammond to do GCSEs and then A Levels, alongside a three-year diploma in musical theatre, and has performed in a string of school productions, including Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera and Cabaret (‘I played Ernst Ludwig, a Nazi. I haven’t played a bad guy before. I loved it!’)
Jordan says his mum Pik-Fung, who was born in Hong Kong, was ‘happy, proud and overwhelmed’ when she heard he had been accepted into the Royal Academy.
It’s a nice coincidence that an alumnus and a patron of this institution is none other than Sir Elton John. Perhaps the lad from Wrexham may get another chance to meet the singer who unwittingly set him on course for a life in music.