A Twitter storm has once more erupted around the use of celebrity casting for the Jesus Christ Superstar arena tour taking place at the end of this year, and I can’t help wondering why industry professionals are again being overlooked?
The first controversy was the use of a TV talent show to find the actor who will play Jesus – even the show’s lyricist Tim Rice was against this idea. This has now been compounded by the casting of Tim Minchin and Melanie Chisholm (aka Sporty Spice) as Judas and Mary Magdalene. Minchin is known for basing his comedy around music and songs, as well as winning awards for his score to Matilda. Melanie Chisholm has also won praise for her stint as Mrs Johnston in the West End show Blood Brothers. The casting of these two has been begrudgingly accepted, however the biggest uncertainty is the casting of Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles in the role of Herod. People are outraged that a role that could have gone to a trained performer has gone to the breakfast broadcast presenter who, apart from singing on a couple of TV shows, has no obvious musical theatre connection.
Time Out has justified Lloyd Webber’s decision by the fact Herod is not a character to be liked: “It’s probably best not to dwell on the presence of noisy breakfast DJ Chris Moyles as Herod, but you have to concede that Webber knows how to pick a hate figure.” The cynic in me assumes all these casting decisions are to get bums on seats as opposed to being pure artistic choices; these big venues need to sell out. And it is working – the first date at the O2 has already sold out and an extra date has been added.
Like most people I follow on Twitter, I feel it is a let-down to bypass all these trained professionals for big names; these are dream roles for many and it could make them feel like all that training and hard graft was for nothing. This is why there is a buzz surrounding @westendproducer‘s Twitter talent search – what started as a simple online Twitter/Youtube competition and has expanded and resulted in a live final in the West End. The competition has been so popular that they have added a category for under 15s and an international listing which will be judged online.
The judges for the live show of UK adults include West End leading lady Louise Dearman, theatrical agent Gemma Lowry Hamilton, director Anne Vosser and performer Mike Dixon. Theatre stalwart Peter Polycarpou has also had a hand in deciding the quarter finalists. The best part is that unlike TV Talent shows which like to focus on ‘off the street’ characters or a sob story, nearly all of the quarter finalists are performers working in the industry and for them this is a whole different level of exposure. The title the winner receives may not be at the top of their CV, but it opens doors for them, something that is so important in this industry. I hope others take notice of what @WestEndProducer and his/her colleagues are doing; finding ways to use the internet to help professionals get a leg up in their careers. Do check out the quarter finalists and vote for your favourite, I wish all the competitors the best of luck for the live final on 9 July!
Image: Tim Minchin, Melanie Chisholm and Chris Moyles, courtesy of the Jesus Christ Superstar website.