At the beginning of 2017 the BBC launched Let It Shine; a reality show to find performers for a new, ‘Take That’ inspired musical.
It’s the latest in a long line of similar talent shows that have appeared on British screens in the last decade and which moved on to become theatre tours in their own right.
We thought it would be interesting to look back at previous theatre talent shows and see how well their theatre productions turned out.
Join us on our trip down memory lane, as we relive the highs and lows of this unusual time in television history.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?
The theatre talent show phenomenon kicked off with How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?
Contestants competed for the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2006 production of The Sound of Music, and were judged on their performances by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, as well as Doctor Who actor John Barrowman.
Eventually, the finalists were narrowed down to ten hopefuls, who competed for votes each week live on BBC1. The winner was Welsh actress Connie Fisher, who received a six-month contract to play the role of Maria Rainer.
Connie’s debut at the London Palladium was warmly received by several newspapers:
- The Guardian said Connie “occupies the Palladium stage with absolute confidence and winning charm”.
- The Independent said Connie was “charmingly natural from the moment she starts to sing” and possessed “a mellifluous warmth, a comforting maternal quality”.
- Variety was less complimentary, saying she was “winningly confident” even if she “lacks originality and the essential vulnerability”.
Despite the review by Variety, Connie went on to star as Maria during a UK theatre tour of The Sound Of Music in July 2009, which started in Cardiff before touring to Bradford and Southampton among other places.
Any Dream Will Do
The following year, Andrew Lloyd Webber returned to television to find his next star.
The theatre talent show, ‘Any Dream Will Do’, offered a starring role in the 2007 performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, at the Adelphi Theatre in London.
Hosted by the unmatched Graham Norton, the show followed a similar format to How Do You Solve… with twelve Joseph hopefuls reaching the final.
The Essex-born Lee Mead won the competition, in the end, receiving the most public votes after nine weeks of live shows.
Joseph’s reviews were mixed:
- Writing for londontheatre.co.uk, Chloe Preece said the props and costumes “look like they came from a charity shop”. She went on to criticise the songs, saying “ ‘Any Dream Will Do’ and ‘Close Every Door to Me’ were the only mildly passable ones”. However, she praised Mead himself, citing his “rich and strong” voice and popularity with the audience.
- The Evening Standard was more complimentary, saying the show “offers a seductive blend of camp, kitsch”.
- The Times said Lee Mead was “both talented and enthusiastic”, while the show as a whole “is a reminder of how splendidly versatile Lloyd Webber can be”.
Mead went on to perform as Joseph for 600 shows before appearing as Joseph for the last time in January 2009.
A ‘10 years since Joseph!’ anniversary theatre tour is planned for 2018 with Milton Keynes, Newport and Redditch as key destinations so far.
I’d Do Anything
Andrew Lloyd Webber returned to television for a third time with I’d Do Anything in 2008.
This time the production in the limelight was Oliver!
The search was on for the lead role of both Oliver Twist and Nancy.
Three young hopefuls would go on to play the part of Oliver in the West End, while just one would go on to play Nancy.
Blackpool entertainer Jodie Prenger landed the role of Nancy, while the role of Oliver was shared by Gwion Jones, Harry Stott and Laurence Jeffcoate.
The four were joined by Rowan Atkinson as Fagin, and all of them appeared in the 2009 production at the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane, which ran for just under two years.
Reviews for the show were mixed again:
- Writing in The Guardian, Susannah Clapp described Jodie’s Nancy as “boisterous by strangely bland”.
- While Michael Billington (writing in the same publication) said she “delivers her big number with passionate fervour” even if there were “too many cockney knees-up for his liking”.
- Michael Coveney delivered the most damning verdict in The Independent: “(…) she can’t act and she doesn’t have the depth of lung power to fill a plastic bag, let alone a West End theatre on a daily basis”.
Over the Rainbow
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 4th BBC collaboration followed his search for a Dorothy (and Toto) to star in his 2011 production of The Wizard of Oz.
According to Lloyd Webber himself The Wizard of Oz presented unique challenges, as previous productions had struggled to differentiate themselves from the 1939 film.
Eventually the show opened at the London Palladium, where it ran for 18 months.
The show was also unusual in that the winner was eventually replaced by her alternate. Danielle Hope, a 17-year old Mancunian, beat out all ten of her rivals in a grueling eight-week competition.
However, her rival Sophie Evans was brought on to play the role once a week, before replacing Danielle full time in 2012.
Lloyd Webber’s production was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for the Best Musical Revival.
- Writing in the Telegraph, Charles Spencer (self-professed Wizard hater) said Danielle’s Dorothy offered a “thoroughly competent rather than an inspired performance. She sings Over the Rainbow with feeling (…) but she lacks the heart-catching vulnerability of the young Judy Garland”. However, he did also say that fans of the original film would enjoy it.
- The London Evening Standard’s Henry Hitchings was more complimentary, saying Danielle Hope made “a winning impression. Her performance combines innocence with easy charm, and her voice soars”.
- Sophie Evans’ performance was well received by the Oxford Times . Christopher Gray described her as “an actress and singer of the greatest accomplishment”.
- While Karen Price from the Wales Online said she “plays a naive and tender Dorothy who you really want to befriend”.
The last theatre talent show to hit our screens by Webber was Superstar.
It followed the search for the lead actor in Lloyd Webber’s 2012 production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
This show was marked by a few changes: it moved to ITV, with Amanda Holden presenting it and Jason Donovan, Dawn French and Melanie Chisholm replacing John Partridge, Sheila Hancock and Charlotte Church as the judges.
The show was won by Sunderland actor Ben Forster, who benefited from previous experience in productions like Grease and Thriller – Live.
Lloyd Webber’s production premiered at the 02 Arena in London, before going on to Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle, Dublin and several other venues.
It also saw a high number of celebrity cast members.
Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles played the role of Herod, while Spice Girls member Mel C played the role of Mary Magdalene and Tim Minchin played the role of Judas.
The production polarised critics:
- While the Telegraph’s Laura Thompson praised it, citing Tim Minchin’s “weary intelligence’ and Mel C’s ‘lovely relaxed Mary Magdalene”.
- The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner was far less complimentary. She said the show contained “spectacle, but very little variety” and decried the performers’ poor acting abilities.
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