Sublebrity Sits Vac

Graham Norton on a flying bicycle! Sheila Hancock saying ‘tits’ in prime-time, then announcing “I don’t care, they can’t sack me!” Charlotte Church perfecting her Margaret Thatcher death glare! Yes, folks, it can only be the final of “Over the Rainbow”. There will now be a short hiatus while the Munchkins are put to work replenishing the global supply of sequins, lip-gloss, gingham and cheese. The rest of us, once we’ve taken two Solpadeine Plus to recover from the headache induced by the set and lighting designers, will continue to wonder why the licence fee has, once again, been spent on an extended infomercial for a commercial theatrical production. Don’t think about that one too much, the answer will depress you.

Where was I? Oh yes. Oz. That’s Oz, not Oz or Oz. Or rather, some TV studio with a hideous set featuring a couple of staircases, a giant-sized pair of ruby slippers, a disturbing number of flashing lights including some highly regrettable green lasers, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who at least didn’t make a tacky gag about having a mouthful of chipolata this week (that was last Saturday; I didn’t blog about it because I was too busy washing my brain out with bleach in a desperate attempt to make the several resulting unappealing mental images go away). “Over the Rainbow” is the latest in an increasingly long line of let’s-cast-a-musical reality TV shows, and, yes, this search for a Dorothy for a new West End stage production of “The Wizard of Oz” has, at times, been ghastly, teeth-achingly twee television, but it’s also been intermittently compelling, despite the awful musical arrangements and the bombastic production.

First, there’s the great Sheila Hancock on the judging panel. Sharp, acerbic but genuinely supportive, she apparently ripped up the reality TV rulebook in the first ten minutes of her first day and has spent the entire series saying exactly what she thinks, instead of following the usual route of alternating between bland criticism and “you go, girl” clichés. Second, there’s the contestants. Well, some of them, at least (we’ll draw a polite veil over Emilie, who proved again in her one solo line in her reappearance in the final that she couldn’t find a note even if armed with a sat-nav, a compass, a map and a dowsing rod).  The semi-finalists – Steph Fearon, Lauren Samuels, Sophie Evans and Danielle Hope – are all strong pop singers and at least passable actors, and the winner – Danielle Hope – is, I suspect, a real find. She has, I think, been the front-runner for several weeks now. Not because she had the best voice in the competition (that was probably Ms. Samuels), but because she’s consistently shown, despite her relative youth and her lack of formal training, an intelligence in her acting choices, however cheesy the song she was called upon to sing in any given week. Her “Over the Rainbow” in the final was quietly spectacular – she sang the song as if it was a newly-minted piece that nobody had ever heard before, delivered a flawless vocal that was entirely free of the MOR pop grandstanding that’s usually the signature of most of the singing in these contests (most of her fellow contestants succumbed to that particular disease at some point in the competition), and acted the lyrics as Dorothy, finding the emotional impulse underneath each line, each beat, rather than just making pretty sounds that didn’t connect to the lyrical content. More than that, she wasn’t afraid to be still. In the context of a reality TV contest, it was a genuinely remarkable performance, simply because it was, well, genuine.

The thing is, so much about the show is hideous. The TV show is staged and packaged in much the same way as pop-star shows like X-Factor and Pop Idol, as a multi-week full-out assault on common sense and good taste, presided over by a gaggle of sublebrity mediocrities, with tacky, lowest-common-denominator musical direction, sets fashioned from glitter and solidified vomit, and perhaps one sane, intelligent judge among the sleb-mag loons. Even the musical repertoire is similar, despite the fact that it’s not necessarily all that easy to judge whether a singer has the necessary qualities to bring out the best in a selection of Arlen classics from a broad, unsubtle diet of contemporary pop sludge. And yet, somehow, this particular show, I think, has managed to find someone with real potential. For the first time, watching one of these shows, I’m actually interested in shelling out for a theatre ticket.

Oh yes – and after sitting through several weeks of this, I’m now convinced that Charlotte Church is a zombie and John Partridge is a vampire. So there.

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