In the past two weeks the process of casting in musical theatre has been well and truly turned on its head.
It started with @westendproducer‘s #Search For A Twitter Star (SFATS) final held in the West End – a talent show judged by agents, performers, directors and the public through YouTube and a live final. It provided the biggest and best exposure for many of these finalists, with the chance to perform in front of their peers and idols. There was also an announcement of the child and international winners the following night. One of the children has felt the benefit of this Twitter search already, with judge Gemma Lowry Hamilton, a theatrical agent, signing her up – Emily Carey recently started rehearsals for Shrek the Musical. It is only a matter of time before the adult performers also get their breaks. The whole project was so well received that there have been calls to make it a yearly event, with The Stage saying it has potential.
A week later and a second talent search was on our TV screens: the search for Jesus in the arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. There has been a lot of controversy about this one stealing work from trained professionals. However, some beady-eyed people noticed that many who made it through to ‘Superstar Island’ were professionals, such as Alex Gaumond (WWRY, Legally Blonde) and Oliver Tompsett (Wicked, Rock of Ages). In fact, many who went home in the early stages were young and untrained; the panel thought they wouldn’t be able to handle the role.
Even the final eleven is made up of people who have trained or worked for a while in the industry: Roger Wright (Lion King, Thriller Live), Niall Sheehy (Mountview, Wicked), Ben (Italia Conti, Grease) and David Hunter (LIPA, One Man, Two Governors). Many lamented that such leading men have had to go through this public audition hoopla but it was also praised. Despite this, the show hasn’t been pulling in the crowds; three million was the audience figure for the first shows. I wonder if we lose something through the TV – performers often sound out of tune but the judges say nothing. There is also discontent about the song choices with the contestants singing pop songs for a musical theatre role, but as JCS is a rock opera it does have more of a pop sound than other shows. Yet if @westendproducer was casting it I’m sure contestants would audition with musical theatre songs; the whole idea of his SFATS live final gives me hope that you can cast through a talent search without selling your soul to television.
Tompsett wrote a status/blog (9 July) on Facebook about how he feels: sadly he had pulled out due to commitments to another show (a move some other Jesus’ should have emulated). He said that these TV talent shows (like SFATS) breathe new life and talent into musical theatre and I find myself going against what I have ever said before and almost agreeing. I have friends struggling to break into the industry because they don’t have an agent so can’t get the big auditions and talent searches like this may be an option for them. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to come quietly – I still feel that the TV shows ruin the normal casting process and put trained professionals out in the cold.