BBC's Over The Rainbow (Fountain Studios 23/3/10 + 10/4/10) 11 April 2010

I got a strange reaction from people when I told them I was going to a recording of Over The Rainbow. I wasn't sure if it was because it has all those things stereotypically associated with musical theatre or the fact that it has that 'friend of Dorothy' element about it. Either way, I didn't feel it was anything to be ashamed of. I have always found backstage and 'the road to (insert production name here)' stories interesting. Okay, this isn't exactly as straightforward as some, there's a great deal of TV gloss and just a little bit of desperation about it all but I still really enjoy it.

Over the Rainbow wasn't my first Andrew Lloyd Webber in search of...recording. I was at two live shows for How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? (once in the front row next to the family of one of the Maria's who I wasn't supporting and had to wave goodbye on that particular week - very uncomfortable), I missed out on the Any Dream Will Do - couldn't get a ticket, was at the final of I'd Do Anything and just attended my second Over the Rainbow. Strangely enough, for a programme that's seen by many as just a piece of fluff, it's been steadily in the news and has had its fair share of controversy.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?
The search for Maria in The Sound of Music

1. It made news first by being such a risky venture (what if the voting public choose a Maria that's not up to it?
2. As a safety precaution they hired seasoned actress Emma Williams to basically split the performances with the eventual winner).
3. Went under attack by actors equity about it's casting process.
4. Winner Connie announced she would be able to do most of the performances - Emma Williams then left the production as she would be relegated to a matinee only schedule.
5. Connie gets ill and blows her voice proving she wasn't as up to it as she thought.
6. The production went on to get wonderful reviews, make the producers loads of money and introduce many to the theatre.

Any Dream Will Do
The search for Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

1. Contestant and eventual winner Lee Mead had been in the West End as an understudy in Phantom of the Opera which seemed to go against the productions intention of finding an unknown fresh face.
2. Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat received so so reviews but still did great business and gets more theatre newbies in.
3. Lee Mead weds Any Dream Will Do panelist Denise Van Outen.

I'd Do Anything
The search for Nancy in Oliver!

1. Old Vic Theatre Artistic Director Kevin Spacey makes a public denouncement of the programme stating that he feels the BBC were promoting Oliver! through a 10 week advert. He feels the the same attention should be given to other theatre.
2. Oliver! producer Cameron MacIntosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber announce on the final programme that they feel contestant Jesse Buckley is their favourite. Jody Prenger wins and everyone seems uncomfortable.
3. Jody Prenger is given a great deal of preparation time and training including a short stint in the West End's Les Mis.
4. Oliver! has record breaking sales and respectable reviews.
5. SOLT - Society of London Theatre - announces the West End experienced it's best year ever and reality shows like I'd Do Anything are cited as a contributing factor.

Over The Rainbow
The search for Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz

It's still early days but...

1. None of the previous Panelists return fueling speculation that John Barrowman and Denis Van Outen (now pregnant with Lee Mead's child) were sacked.

Personally I feel that these programmes have had an impact on West End ticket sales. Of course there will always be naysayers stating that audiences are coming for the wrong reasons but I know from experience that this sort of thing actually works. Years ago ,one of my first theatre jobs was for a theatre that relied mainly on subscribers. When I started they were just finishing an extended run of Phantom of the Opera (extended as in years) which had made it's first non New York appearance. My job was to ring those who attended Phantom and encourage them to become subscribers. Initial thoughts were in the vicinity of - good luck - but I was very surprised at the number of people for whom Phantom was their first theatre experience and were very interested in trying others. There was a second smaller theatre that produced straight plays also on subscription and many, many people became subscribers in the smaller house. It's the equivalent of casting out a big fishing net, there may be a large number of fish initially but when you pull it in there will be a great deal less, but you just have to keep throwing out the net.

I wonder if the tag 'reality show' is putting people off. I don't get it to tell the truth. Reality show? It contains real people but does that make it a reality show? To me a reality show is something like Cops where the audience is following something that would be happening with or without the cameras. All the others I would call either game shows or competitions. If there is a process that pre selected people go through in order to win or gain something at the end then it's a game show. Look at something like Mastermind. Contestants compete week after week, with big winners making it through to the semis and then the finals. It is a long process and someone wins at the end. Big Brother is the same thing as is X-Factor, Britain's Got Talent and Over The Rainbow. They're just flashier than Mastermind or Master Chef.

Anyway, to the experience. I'll save you loads of detail but just pull out some interesting bits.

It's a very different experience seeing it live. Being in the studio gives a better sense of how the contestants would be on stage. You get the whole picture and are able to see and focus on what grabs you. I've seen some really good performances in the group numbers that the TV audience don't get to see.

If you've ever watched Simon Cowell on American Idol or X-Factor you will probably be aware of his 'when you watch this back...' phrase, usually accompanying a performance that everyone else thought was great but he wasn't so keen on. He is so right. On Saturday night I thought Bronte was pretty good and was very surprised when she got the least votes. It wasn't until I watched it back that I could see why she would have not been a favourite. I think that the one who wins has to be able to come across well on stage and on TV.

From the Dorothys that didn't make it, Teghan was my favourite (She comes across much better live) and I think the Leading Ladies (first show mentors Kerry Ellis, Ruthie Henshall and Tamsin Outhwaite) who were present during that first show which whittled it down to ten Dorothys, she was their favourite as well. After the announcement of the final 10 and the group was split into two, there was a short filming break. Tegan was very upset and all the Leading Ladies got her attention and gave her a private pep talk.

Both the live show and the results show are filmed back to back. It's a long evening especially after queueing for quite a while before getting into the studio. As with all of those variety type shows there's the warm-up guy, a semi comedian who gets the crowd enthused by making everyone stand up and dance, clap along to dance tracks and have to endure the 'which side can scream louder' competition. Unfortunately it's been the same warm up guy since I'd Do Anything, along with the same tired jokes. Especially wearisome was the tossing chocolates into the audience bit where he encourages a woman to catch chocolate in her cleavage in order to win a prize - this week, an Over the Rainbow mug. Anyway, part of the routine is to instruct the audience to clap along (and if you are in camera shot - as we were - they really want to ensure you keep the clapping going to look good). The audience is also encourage applaud high notes and interesting vocalisations. I now forgive all the audiences I've damned from the comfort of my sofa.

We spent alot of time on Saturday waiting while a huge Great Dane couldn't be trained to sit still. I think it was supposed to be part of the results show to tie in with the search for Toto. The dogs lead was tied to Lord Webber's chair and almost took the Lord with him as he dashed to his owner. Each time they brought the dog in they had to take away the podium with the ruby slippers. This in and out with the slippers prompted someone to let us know that the slippers are worth over £2000. They didn't say what they were made of but Graham Norton said they were a size 6, the average size of all the Dorothy's. He could have been joking about the size. Not really sure.

Halfway through the results show taping, the Lord whispered to Charlotte Church and John Partridge. He seemed to be quite upset. John whispered it to Sheila Hancock and they all seemed shocked. I think they found out who was in the bottom two which makes sense as I had wondered why Lord Webber never had the look on his face which comes from hearing such news for the first time.

There are three Dorothy's that I think would work - Steph, Stephanie and Jessica. All three come across really well live which is what I'm looking for.

If you want to apply for tickets the are still taking requests for the final three shows as of this posting - you'll have to register at The Applause Store.

That was pretty much it - oh, for the moon effect - the girls are not strapped in - just holding on for dear life.


Katherine Wood said...

Absolutely fascinating - thanks Barry. Was there a feeling in the audience that Bronte shouldn't have been sent home? Who, in your opinion, should have gone?

Barry Wilson said...

It's difficult to say - I was so focused on the panelists reactions that I wasn't paying attention to anything else. Also, I was seated next to the stage, part of the semi circle that is a bit separate from the bulk of the crowd.

Emilie should have gone - in fact she should have never made it into the final 11.