Sunday, March 23, 2008

I'd Cry and Scream at Anything

I was lured into watching 'I'd Do Anything' (Saturdays, BBC1) because 'Oliver' is one of the greatest stage musicals. It would be easy to sneer at something with such mass appeal but hearing those terrific songs belted out in a theatre is always ten times more enjoyable than you remembered.
This series is another stab at casting a West End musical through a talent show. In this case they are looking for a Nancy and an Oliver - actually three Olivers because of working restrictions on children.

A member of my family was in the last Cameron Mackintosh production of Oliver over twenty years ago (don't worry J, I won't publish the photos). Thus it was I found myself sitting in the stalls of a provincial theatre watching rehearsals, the only male among a gaggle of proud mums. My most vivid memory is of the moment the boy playing Oliver sang an unaccompanied solo. When he finished, all the other boys applauded. I started to applaud but, as luck would have it, I seemed to have got a speck of dust in my eye and had to blow my nose. Looking along the row of mothers, wads of tissues were being produced from handbags and passed around. That was a bad year for colds and flu.

'I'd Do Anything' is a dubious title for a show featuring young women desperate to appear on the West End stage. But fear not. Graham Norton, John Barrowman and Sir Cameron Mackintosh are all gay. And Andrew Lloyd Webber.......well, in the immortal words of Mr Meatloaf: "but I won't do that."

There are another ten weeks to go but so far this crying and screaming fest has been monumentally boring. Things might pick up in the live shows but I'm not sure I can face another ten weeks of crying and screaming. Some of these girls were in tears at having to remove their make-up so God knows what tsunami of lachrymosity will be unleashed when they move into the TV studio.
Some of them did the smiling or laughing cry, even when bad news was being imparted.
When I see actresses do this in dramas I find it puzzling and wonder if they're corpsing but it is evidently something that women can do.
Not that I've had much experience of making women cry or scream either in anguish or ecstasy although it may be the case that a few have wept in the privacy of their boudoirs on discovering that someone so lush played for the other side.

After two previous such series, Andrew Lloyd Webber is now adept at giving girls the heave-ho with honeyed words. Over the years, theatre people have been very inventive in developing ambiguous compliments for those difficult situations where you have just seen a friend give a stinking performance in a turkey of a play. One tactic is to throw you arms in the air and say: "Darling, what can I say?"

Last night, Andrew Lloyd Webber dismissed one girl with "You're not Nancy, darling, but you are something else!"
Quite brilliant, for the 'something else' could be:
a) 'You are perfect casting for Shaw's St Joan'
b) 'You are a talentless, hysterical no-hoper and I'd rather give my collection of Old Masters to a charity shop than put you in a West End musical.'

As for the Olivers, they have so far played second fiddle to the search for Nancy. This might be because ten year old boys, to the frustration of the producers, don't do the 'reaction shot' as well as girls, wailing like a banshee not being a cool option for your average boy.
The successful Olivers were made to read the good news from a scroll in the presence of family or classmates. Some of them reacted with no more emotion than if they had been told they were getting a new pair of trainers or a birthday bash at MacDonalds. I rather liked them for that.

At the outset, Sir Cameron and His Lordship told us they didn't want a cute Victorian urchin but a raw, feral street kid. Looking at last night's finalists, they seemed to have failed miserably. Most of them seemed to come from comfortable, middle-class families with years of music and singing lessons behind them.
There surely must be some pint-sized chavs out there who can both swear like a trooper and sing like an angel. But that reflects the class bias in the performing arts and the failure of the school system. There are some real-life Billy Elliots but they are few and far between. Maybe they should have recruited Gareth Malone who has been so successful in finding and inspiring raw talent in state schools in the two series of The Choir.
Apparently, Wayne Rooney's favourite musical is Oliver. His favourite evening in is watching the DVD and he knows all the songs by heart. So there you have an obvious way-in to reach those kids who think football and musicals exist on different planets. The Wayne Rooney Academy of Football and Performing Arts, anyone?

A word of warning though to those proud parents of the prospective Olivers. They should remember that Noel Coward could equally have advised Mrs Worthington not to put her son on the stage.
A friend of mine worked on a London production of Joseph many years ago. The show includes a choir of young boys. One day my friend told me there had been a terrific rumpus in the theatre just before the Saturday matinee. The wardrobe mistress had walked into the boys' dressing room and found them rehearsing not Joseph but a previously unknown musical called 'Onan!' The big production number involving everyone was just coming to its climax.
Oh, to hell with twee euphemisms: the little angels were enjoying a group wank.
To be fair, there's a lot of hanging around in the theatre, waiting for 'Act One, Beginners' when you're too young to go the pub. And in those days there were no iPods, mobile phones or computer games. Kids had to make their own entertainment. And when you're twelve and at a loose end Any Dream Will Do.


At 12:30 PM, Blogger Vicus Scurra said...

My absence of comments here is indicative, generally, of my support for your views.
However, your glorification of musicals does rather lend itself to conforming to a cliched stereotype does it not?
Vicus. Who went to see Hair. With a party from school. Not been to a musical since.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

vicus: like most stereotypes it has little foundation in truth.
Since the West End has been almost completely taken over by musicals (a bad thing)are we to conclude that the theatre-going public consists almost entirely of gay men?
Nor do I glorify musicals as a genre. I like some but not others. The Wizard of Oz is on TV as I write this but I'm not watching it because I hate it. I'm none too keen on Rodgers and Hammerstein either and Mary Poppins induces vomiting.
Now you've prompted me to think about it, there aren't that many musicals I like.

What kind of school took you to see full-frontal nudity and songs about cunnilingus? Was it Summerhill by any chance?

At 1:57 PM, Blogger Vicus Scurra said...

I was fortunate enough to be at one of the most progressive state schools of my time.
The outing was referred to as "the sixth form trip". Starshine, Aquarius and so forth were not mentioned.


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