Sunday, 28 March 2010

Girls on farm

Auditions 1: 26th March 2010

So, here we are again: two years after Jodie Prenger was crowned the Nation's Nancy (and the looks of grimly-veiled horror on Cameron Mackintosh's and Andrew Lloyd Webber's faces are still funny even now)[Steve is speaking literally, folks - he and I reviewed the footage on Thursday night as I've saved it on my Sky+... - Carrie], we're back searching for another West End Leading Lady - specifically, one who will play Dorothy in the Lord's production of The Wizard Of Oz.

We begin with a voiceover from Graham intoning that the Lord is back, and embarking on his "biggest ever" search. Superlatives like that will be thrown around a lot over the next two nights by the way, and I've found it best not to dwell on them wherever possible. We get a frenzied preview of what lies in store, as the panel argue about who should or should not go forward, and we wonder just who will be Dorothy?

Time for the all-new titles: there aren't nearly enough scrapping Dorothys in it for my taste, and the repeated close-ups of Andrew Lloyd Webber leering at the camera in faces which I assume are intended to indicate such emotions as "confusion", "distress" and eventually "satisfaction" are disturbing indeed. Especially that last one, for reasons upon which I am sure you do not need me to elaborate. I do like how the Os in the show's title are mini tornadoes, though. That's a nice touch.

From there, we go to The Lord telling us that Dorothy is an iconic role, as immortalised by Judy Garland. The Dorothy of this new version, he says, must eradicate the memory of Judy. Dear Andrew: that is never going to happen, but good luck trying anyway. Kisses, Steven. He wants a Dorothy with "a little bit of today" about her, at which point New Panelist Sheila Hancock continues that they're looking for someone with a little bit of strength, New Panelist Charlotte Church reads some lines from an autocue about how this Dorothy must be "edgy" and "contemporary" (again, never going to happen, but who am I to stand in the way of a dream?) and New Panelist John Partridge confirms that they are looking for "a major star".

Andrew says that the public has got it right with all the roles we've cast so far: "Connie Fisher, probably the best Maria I've ever seen"; "Lee has been a fantastic Joseph" and "of course Jodie has been extraordinary in Oliver!" Hmm. I notice how he still words his compliments towards Jodie so vaguely that they might as well not be compliments at all. Poor Jodie - she'll always be second-fiddle to a sidegobbed pirate in the Lord's eyes. Still, at least he's pretending he's okay with that decision, which is probably the best we could have hoped for. Finding Dorothy, of course, is a huge undertaking, so it's very important they get it right.

Cut to: grainy footage of the country, until Graham appears and "adjusts the colour" to make everything normal again. He's standing outside "Dorothy Farm" [Tewin Bury Farm, Old Welwyn, fact fans - aka the place my sister got married. V odd seeing Sheila Hancock sitting in a hall where I was a bridesmaid. - Carrie], and explains that 50 girls are due to arrive soon to compete for a prize that will "blow them away", but first we must travel back in time - back to the preliminary auditions in January, which were held in Glasgow, Belfast, Cardiff, Manchester and London. We see hopefuls filing into the holding rooms, and then they all assemble in front of the cameras to bellow "there's no place like home!" at us. In case you weren't aware, production of this series has now shifted to Talkback Thames, which explains the slight X Factor feel to proceedings this evening. A group of people we'll almost certainly never see again yelling something inspiring at the camera in unison? Well, that would be Unnecessary X Factor Homage Number One. There follows a group of individuals all determined to tell the camera that they are, in fact, the Dorothy we're looking for (Unwelcome X Factor Homage Number Two).

The poor chap with the thankless task of sitting through, as Graham puts it, "thousands of renditions of 'Over The Rainbow'" is casting director David Grindrod. Those who get his initial seal of approval will be put through to the second round, to be held at the Hackney Empire, in front of (two thirds of) Andrew's newly-appointed panel. To begin with, we hear a few off-key renditions, then David yelling "Dull! Boring!" and then a random insertion of him shoving a random girl and her shoving him back, which is never explained at any point. One girl bellows loudly at him, and is turned away. (Forgive me; a lot of the auditionees here are never given names, and while some of them may turn out to be important later and I will do my best to try to use names where possible, it is entirely likely that some will slip through the cracks.)

After a bit of filler from Graham, Andrew arrives at the Glasgow auditions, despite this apparently being the time when the whole of the UK was entirely besieged by snow. He tells the cameras triumphantly that the snow posed no challenge to him. Well, no, when you butter your toast in the morning with £50 notes, I dare say you probably do find ways around colossal snowfall fairly easily. He strides across the building and past a queue of waiting potential Dorothys, who are appropriately awestruck. Andrew tells us that he's half-Scottish, though no one believes it because he can't do the accent. I don't think it's that people don't believe you, Andrew, I think it's more that they don't care.

Montage of auditionees. Andrew bemoans someone with a lot of bad habits, which I assume are of the singing variety rather than of the nose-picking kind. "You have to look for somebody you can mould, and we'd never be able to get that out of her," he laments. Except I seem to remember him being quite happy to bend the rules to accommodate Pirate Jessie's numerous idiosyncrasies last time around. Can't we just say that they're Redefining The Role Of Dorothy?

Our first named auditionee is 29-year-old Lauren Fox from East Kilbride. She talks in wonderment about singing in front of Lord Lloyd Webber, and then double-checks with the crew that he is indeed a lord. Heh. She sings 'Reflection' from Mulan, and Andrew likes that she thinks about the words. She's through. Andrew says that he wants a Dorothy who is conceivably bored with her homelife and looking to run away. Which segues nicely into our next auditionee, 16-year-old Olivia, who has walked around 30 miles to get here. She needn't have bothered, because her singing is not good, and David turns her away. Olivia is happy she made the trip nonetheless.

Some girls travelled further than that, even: our next montage is of auditionees from Poland, Texas, Kazakhstan, and, erm, Tottenham. But that last one had a very foreign sounding name, and therefore that totally justifies including her, because anyone with a foreign name isn't really British, right? God, who's editing this, Nick Griffin?

Next up is Camille Mesnard, who's from France. She sings Celine Dion's 'Tu M'Aimes Encore' and sounds lovely. She gets a callback. Then we're in Cardiff, where one hopeful sings in Welsh, and a lot of girls seem to have brought stuffed animals with them. That's it from Cardiff, though, because from there we're straight to Belfast, where we see, I am fairly sure, several girls who will ultimately make up the Top 20, but the show doesn't give me names to confirm this and, well, a lot of these girls look really similar. Sisters Philippa and Jolene O'Hara are next, and Jolene hopes they will both get through. They audition individually - Jolene with a ropey rendition of Christina Aguilera's 'Hurt' and Philippa with a more melodious though still slightly trained 'Behind These Hazel Eyes'. Philippa gets through, Jolene does not. David explains to Jolene that she lacks "the extra ping factor". Well, I'm sure she can go away and work on that. Sadly, there is no screeching drama outside, just happiness on Jolene's part that her sister got through. Boo! Where's the catfight? I wanted BLOOD!

Cut to Graham in a barn with some dogs. Actual canines, to clarify, not some ugly contestants. This is because they'll also be searching for a Toto (though it's rather a rum prize, as we'll learn later). Unfortunately, some people have brought their dogs to the Dorothy auditions. Oh, the hilarity!

Then we're in Manchester, and Andrew's turned up again. You can pretty much hear the sound of underwear being soiled throughout the building the second he arrives. One person who seems comparatively unfazed, though, is 18-year-old Jessica from Middlesborough, who's basically the Poundstretcher Diana Vickers. She's been auditioning for stage schools in London, but her family is NORMAL, she tells us, and so they cannot afford to send her. [I hated her. - Carrie] She sings an affected but animated version of 'If My Friends Could See Me Now' [even more punchably than Outhwaite does - Carrie], which excites Andrew greatly, so Jessica is off to That London, assuming her NORMAL FAMILY can afford to send her that far. Outside, she endears herself to me slightly by wondering if she's acting like a total geek in all her excitement, and then deciding "I don't care!"

That London. Lots of Dorothys waiting to audition, and Jodie Prenger arrives to wish them all luck in her brassy Northern way. She's not changed a bit, bless her. She gets fangirled by a few of the auditionees, and then leads everyone in an impromptu ["impromptu" - Carrie] rendition of 'Over The Rainbow'. Jodie admits she'd do it all again, given the opportunity. Lots of unnamed girls get put through to the callbacks, and squeal with excitement. Cue montage of successful auditionees being hugged by their supportive families.

Graham delivers some more filler to take us to the callbacks in Hackney, explaining that this is designed to give the girls a taste of the fear they'll feel upon stepping out on the West End stage. To add more pressure, two of the panel will be in attendance: musical theatre star Sheila Hancock, who says that it's very hard for her to wipe the image of Judy Garland from her mind, but having done so, she's ready for a Dorothy of any shape or size. Is this what they meant when they said they were looking for an "all-round performer", then? John Partridge, star of EastEnders and Cats will also be joining them. He gives us our first (but surely not last) "EIGHT SHOWS A WEEK" of the series, and says he's looking for a girl who can be consistent and take the pressure. I will be referring to him as Non-Barrowman, by the way, until I tire of it, which will probably be quite soon. David will be staying with them for now to make up the numbers. The Voice Of An Angel's absence is never explained.

Sheila says that auditions are always hell, and they have to get used to this sort of ordeal if they're coming into this profession. Graham talks to Katie who was the first one there, and admits that this was the biggest audition she's ever done, by miles. Katie takes to the stage and sings a reedy version of 'The Winner Takes It All' for the panel while the other girls watch from backstage. David thinks she sang beautifully, but lacks edge. Despite this, she's going through to Dorothy Farm. Katie is very excited. The next auditionee, who is never named, attempts 'Black And Gold' by Sam Sparro, but fucks the first line up, and it all goes downhill from there for her. Several other girls crack under the pressure, but she's the one the editors keep coming back to. She doesn't get through, of course. A girl with a lot of hair sings 'Since U Been Gone', and doesn't get through. She keeps smiling through her tears, and remarks to Graham that she was "so near, yet so far".

17-year-old Danielle is new to all of this, because she is YOUNG. She marvels at the size of the theatre, and admits to never having appeared in a theatre that large before. She yelps her way through 'Black Velvet', and it's enough for the panel to put her through to the next round. She thanks them, and scampers out, while Sheila and Non-Barrowman talk excitedly about her vocal control. This leads to the floodgates opening for lots more successful contenders (Unnecessary X Factor Homage Number Three). So many of them get through that Graham suspects it may become "Dorothy Ranch".

Next auditionee Jenny is a "rock chick", because she is wearing pleather and singing Pixie Lott. She's through. Cassie, who's the girl we saw singing in Welsh earlier, attempts 'Just Dance' and removes all the melody and rhythm from it, yet inexplicably gets through despite this heinous crime against music. Sheila seems particularly enamoured of her. Glamourous Amy Diamond is next, and sings 'Over The Rainbow' just as Andrew arrives. How convenient! She's got a nice tone to her voice, anyway. Andrew claims he was just passing on his way to Leyton Orient. Heh. Non-Barrowman expresses concern that Amy is too commercial. Yes, because the last thing you want to do in a West End production is sell any tickets, after all. Amy's through, all the same. Andrew chats to the panel, and says that he thinks the casting process is in very safe hands. He jabbers a bit more about wanting an edgy, rebellious Dorothy - which brings us to fashionably-coiffed assistant bank manager Claire from Bridgend, who looks a bit like the lovechild of Sarah Harding and Robyn. She sings 'That's Entertainment', but starts too high and her voice cracks. She manages to charm her way out of it, though, and sings 'Over The Rainbow', which Sheila urges her to keep sounding happy. Claire's rendition is pleasant, if not earth-shattering. Time for the passion test: Sheila informs her that around 85% of actors are out of work at any given time, and notes that Claire has got a good life right now ("you've probably got things that you own and everything") - is Claire willing to sacrifice that? Claire says, "There's always a way if you want it enough" and after clarifying with the panel that she does indeed want it enough, she's through to Dorothy Farm.

Next up is Tegan from Norwich, whose parents sold their house so she could go to school. She's all "it's fine! It's totally fine!" And Graham's all "yeah, for you" and then cracks up. Tegan's oblivious, even when Graham starts drawing air circles around her and hissing "spoilt child!" at the cameras. Snerk. Tegan sings for the panel, and makes it through to Dorothy Farm. Backstage, Graham's all "they didn't sell the house for nothing!" [I hate her too. - Carrie] After her is dungaree-sporting Sarah, who's brought a recorder with her because she doesn't have perfect pitch. The panel seem pleased by her initiative, though I'd have been tempted to discount her immediately for that admission. This segues into a group of comedy auditions, including someone who is apparently a guide on the Duck Bus and someone who changes the words to 'Don't Rain On My Parade' to include Andrew's name. Andrew's gone, by this point, of course. A girl who sings 'Take Me Or Leave Me' from Rent is told by Sheila that she's trying too hard. She gets through, anyway, exclaiming "oh, poo on you!" She's the girl from Texas, by the way. The pressure then seems to get to Sheila as she asks one girl to sing 'Away In A Manger'. Hee.

Next are teenage cousins Gemma and Stephanie. They're only nine days apart. Graham asks if they live near each other, and they say that they don't: Stephanie lives on the outskirts of Liverpool, and Gemma lives near Liverpool FC's grounds. Graham's all "yes, that's what I meant, you numbskulls". Gemma has her make-up gun set to JonBenet, by the way. It's terrifying. They vow to support each other, because they're family. "We may be showing this later in the programme, when they're having a catfight," Graham giggles.

Gemma goes first, and tells Non-Barrowman about her musical theatre experience, stopping to discover a hair on the mic, which may in fact be one of hers. She sings 'Fallin'' and Non-Barrowman stops her, because she keeps grunting at the end of every line. She tries again, and does it again, but the panel think they can strip those bad habits away from her, so she's through to the next round. Stephanie's on next and sings 'Just Arrived' from Copacabana. Sheila attempts to wrongfoot her by asking if there will be bad feeling in the family if she doesn't get through, but Stephanie's through as well, and Non-Barrowman tells her they all thought she was fab. More girls go through, and scream with delight.

It's now time for Dorothy Farm itself. Stephanie says on the coach that they're all trying to work out where exactly they're going. It's pissing down with rain as they arrive, but no tornadoes, thankfully. They're greeted by Sheila on a giant screen, looking very GamesMaster. She congratulates them for making it that far, but warns them that this is where the real work begins. Oh, and randomly, she also announces that the panel decided that four other girls deserved to make it, and those girls will be joining them now: Emma Warren, Amy Parker, Jessica Robinson, and Stephanie Fearon. The dramatic impact of this particular segment is rather swallowed, since no one seems to react in any great way to this sudden increase in competition.

They will be working with acting coach Donna, choreographer Kevin, and vocal coach Claire, who makes them all cackle. We start off by eavesdropping on the dance barn, where Kevin reveals that several of the girls are really struggling, like "heifers". He's worried about RobynSarahClaire, who has no confidence, and Roxanne, whom I don't think we'll be seeing again. Philippa admits it's hard to get all of the moves together at once. Some of the girls mutter that some of the others were showing off the fact that they could dance already. At an audition?! Those bitches!

After this, Andrew arrives, rather unexpectedly. He sits in on the acting class, where mum-of-two Tasheka is mid-scene. She says that she has a great life, but this would still be amazing. The singing class are performing Alicia Keys' ungrammatical hit 'Empire State Of Mind', while Andrew bores on about how the stage-school kids have a "gloss" to them, that the raw, untrained ones lack, which is apparently a good thing. Ugh, the stage-school bashing on these shows annoys me. [Like Connie and Lee weren't the most stage-school contestants in their series. And going to stage school tends to ensure a vague ability to act and move. JESSIE.- Carrie] Anyway, Andrew departs, and the Dorothys sit up all night worrying about their final performances in front of the panel tomorrow.

The next day arrives, and so do the panelists. Non-Barrowman reminds us that he's looking for somebody who "dances equally as sings equally as acts". I'm not sure that's the correct syntax, but I think we all follow his point. He watches the girls dancing, and tells them that if they mess up, it's not important as long as they look like they know what they're doing. The first group of girls dance terribly, and Non singles out one girl, Jessica, to stand near the front so she can see the choreographer. This prompts her to run from the room in tears, saying that she can't do it. Random Blonde Girl bitches about Jessica showing her emotions when she shouldn't.

Sheila heads to the acting class to see if the girls can give a good performance. The girls are split into groups of two, with one girl playing Dorothy and another playing the Cowardly Lion. After a little while, Sheila stops them, saying she's not seeing many lions in the room. She encourages a few of them to take risks, and says that she loves originality. Stephanie Fearon is singled out for praise, which makes her very happy.

Charlotte Church arrives at long last, and of course heads for the singing auditions. The girls are all quite alarmed to see her, but in a happy sort of way. Charlotte dishes out helpful advice like "you've got a lovely instrument, you just need to find your honeypot". I think I read that in a sex education manual once. She passes on "serious technical stuff" like "welly from the belly". RobynSarahClaire is pleased that she has a fellow Welsh girl around.

Things come to a head, and nerves start to affect the girls as they do their final rehearsals. Finally, the panel arrive, and each group has three minutes to convince them that they can be Dorothy. We see montages of performances of various quality, but it's hard to get invested because we still don't know who half of these people are. We do see Gemma looking on proudly as Cousin Stephanie performs, though, and vice versa. Ultimately, it's all over, and we've heard a few bum notes, though one of the girls claims that no one messed up majorly. Maybe you had to be there? Whether acting and dancing was a part of the final showcase remains unconfirmed, as we only see the singing before we see Non-Barrowman, Sheila and Charlotte standing around a table filled with headshots trying to pick the final 20. Non and Sheila argue about a girl who may or may not be able to sing. Charlotte pleads one girl's case. Sheila rolls her eyes.

The next morning, the 54 girls stand in rows, singing 'Over The Rainbow', as Charlotte paces up and down the rows. As long-term viewers know, a tap on the shoulder at this point means you're gone. Somebody called Jordan goes, as do several others. Some of the girls start to cry. Non-dancing Jessica gets a pat. Rock chick Jenny is disposed of. A girl with big hair called Billie wipes away her tears and says she'll be back in college tomorrow. I have to say, I rather like Charlotte's Touch Of Elimination, which is more of a reassuring stroke than the curt tap that BARROWMAN used to give. Gemma falls, but Stephanie remains. With that, we have our top 20. Stephanie is sad that Gemma has been cut, but she knows that Gemma will support her as she progresses. There is scattered celebration, and then Andrew returns, which I'm sure is enough to trash any party. The Top 20 have to meet with him, and are suitably terrified, though they all lie that they are not. Philippa worries if she is allowed to have banter with Andrew and ask him about the craic. She admits that she was worried he would ask how the hell she got that far, but he does not. Amy (I think) is pleased that it was the real Andrew and not a body double. RobynSarahClaire is amazed to be singing while Lord Webber plays the piano. Andrew tells the cameras that it is going to be a very hard decision, and he wouldn't know where to begin to cull.

Tomorrow: five West End leading ladies put the girls through their paces in a studio show, as they're narrowed down from 20 to 10, and the audience picks an eleventh wildcard Dorothy. Exciting! Expect the recap some point midweek, all being well...