He’s the twitter sensation who drinks “too much dom”, has a “Lloyd Webber glove puppet”, sleeps in “Phantom pyjamas”, and has more 18,000 follows… and nobody knows who he actually is. In fact the “theatre impresario” @WestEndProducer has created quite a storm in theatrical circles, as many have tried to work out who this person – who has such clear inside knowledge – is. In truth, it’s more fun not knowing, and rather amazing that this account of amusing theatre tweets led to an event in the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. @Westendproducer and lead producer @mrtonygreen teamed up to launch a search for a Twitter leading man and Twitter leading lady, asking hopefuls to upload their best singing on YouTube. I was amazed to learn they had had more 600 entries from across the UK. Whittled down via a host of industry professionals and through a voting campaign through Twitter, I found myself sat amongst a host of fans and supporters in the Lyric Theatre awaiting the ten finalists… whilst also not knowing what to expect at all.
As the lights dimmed and a masked figure took his seat in the box, complete with Valjean teddy and famed bottle of Dom Perignon, a voiceover announced the arrival of the ten contestants. Wearing different coloured t-shirts, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you had just sat down to watch the final of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s BBC search for Joseph. Singing their hearts out to ‘A star is born’, the voiceover duly announced each twitter hopeful. It’s at this point I learnt just how serious the nature of this competition would be.
Host Aled Jones bounded on stage to tell us all to keep our phones on, informing us that Twitter would play an integral part in the voting system and encouraging us to tweet our thoughts throughout the show using the hash tag #sfatslive.
@jacqui_archer: So weird being able to tweet! #sfatslive
What’s interesting is that the audience becomes quite giddy at being allowed to break the biggest taboo of theatre etiquette and what is often the most frustrating act of going to a performance becomes the norm, as the audience members’ faces have a faint glow as they frantically type their opinions with immediate response.
@bernadettaaa: The Finalists are amazing singing together #sfatslive
The contestants then took to the stage one by one to perform for the panel of judges. Rest assured, the crowd by this time have been wound up into a frenzy of good feeling and support, each act would have been able to have gauged their performance instantly as they headed to the wings, by searching twitter. The response from the audience was electric and all received hearty applause, none more so than @mikewooster who had an army of fans who instantly rose to their feet upon his final note.
The celebratory atmosphere however had not quite made it to the separate boxes for the four industry judges. @louisedearman @mikedixonmusic @gemmalowyhamil and the croaky @davidkingshows didn’t quite seem to share the apathy of the excitable audience. Their harsh and firm analysis of each performance very often silenced the auditorium, David King often damming the direction of the performances and telling another “you should go back to college”. Upon reaching the announcement of the crowned winners, Aled Jones asked Gemma Lowy Hamilton if the pair would make it to become West End Stars. Surely, in the nature of this Twitter production, the thing to do would have been to just say “yes”, but instead after an uncomfortable silence she managed to splutter a few words about “with further training”. By making the show interactive the judges had no place to hide as the audience furiously tweeted about their verdicts.
@dannylane94: cannot BELIEVE what I’m reading re: some of the judges comments. Those poor people – making their WE (west end) debut & everything!
@craftymiss: some of these judges are tough #sfatslive
@rosiebaker10: Been left feeling disappointed with judges @ #sfatslive Too much unnecessary criticism resulted in a bad atmos[phere]. They were ALL brilliant.
The frustration of the critical judges was only emphasised by an agitated @westendproducer himself who flailed wildly in his box. During the interval, he told me of his frustration that not all were in the same spirit as he. I still have no idea who he is, before you ask.
Fortunately as the audience all tweeted furiously about who they didn’t want to put through to the final four or in some cases…
@jamespenford: can’t we vote for our least favourite judges? #sfatslive
…the audience returned to their seats as the host of backing singers sang us into act two with ‘I want to make Magic’ from Fame. As the votes were counted and verified, Louise Dearman made a quick costume change and stood centre stage to treat the audience to a fantastic rendition of ‘Astonishing’ from Little Women, showing all the finalists how to do it. After rapturous applause Jones returned to the stage to whittle the contestants down and bring the ten to four.
The twitter feed then reopened allowing the audience to vote for their favourite remaining act. As the audience tweeted their winners, Associated Studios presented two girls who sang outstanding renditions of ‘Once Upon a Time’ from Brooklyn and ‘Here’s where I stand’ from Camp, leading the audience to cheer heartily and the grumbly David King to proclaim that he could take the two girls and put them in his shows in Las Vegas.
The crowned winners of the first Search for a Twitter Star, an idea that I’m not sure even the muse behind the show would have imagined would reach a West End Theatre, were the delightful Felipe Bejerano @felipebejarano_ and the wonderful Kara Bayer @karabayer. Both seemed overwhelmed at the title of Twitter’s Leading Man and Lady. They also received industry prizes, including Spotlight membership. They then took to the stage to sing respective duets with Jon Lee and Kerry Ellis, both met with ecstatic applause from the audience.
From a light-hearted theatre-based Twitter account to the West End Stage, I think it’s incredibly important to understand what this event was about and what it achieved. A hugely enjoyable evening for all concerned and the opportunity for people outside London to get in on the action – even if they weren’t inside the walls of the theatre. The standard of the production was high and I’m sure that, although they seemed to put a downer on proceedings, the panel wanted to be fair and realistic in their judging – although Dearman was met with cheers when in the second half she announced she would keep a positive spin on her criticism.
Congratulations to all for dreaming big, and producing an evening’s entertainment that offered an opportunity for the audience to get involved in a unique way. #dear