Am I the only person not to be swept up in the craze that is the casting of lead roles for West End musicals through reality shows?

I may sound like a grumpy old man (at 31) but these things drive me insane, and now with the BBC show Over the Rainbow getting close to the final, that’s all I’m hearing about again. Don’t get me wrong I don’t begrudge the wannabe hopefuls the chance to perform in a new show. After all one could argue that open casting calls do exactly the same thing, but at least with open calls these actors/singers and dancers will start at a level which allows them to build up a CV to lead them on to bigger role.

With shows like this we see apparently everyday people heading up multi million pound musicals. These shows are designed to put an ordinary person who was not a star name in to a West End show, the thing is though after weeks of watching them on these reality shows they are a star name, above title billing, something 99 percent of trained West End performers could only dream of. However my gripe is not really with the contestants but more the shows they go on to star in.

Lord Webber who has been the man behind the hunt for Maria, Joesph, Oliver and Nancy has some questionable show choices to relaunch in the West End, whilst The Sound of Music was a show that was welcomed back to London did we really need another revival of Oliver or the show that never stops touring that is Joseph? Is the Wizard of Oz something that will excite regular theatre goers, especially since the stage incarnations of this classic have been questionable at best?

I suppose in a way Webber is clever, public knowledge of these shows sell the TV show and Joseph, Oliver and Nancy are not really the most challenging roles in musicals (that’s also my opinion with Maria but I’m sure not many agree with me on that score) but I can’t help thinking that if these reality shows have to exist maybe they could revive shows that the regular theatre going audience would want to see?

Listening to people on various theatre message boards over the past few years opinion seems to be the same, theatre fans seem to watch the reality TV shows (anything theatre related on TV is a bonus) but they don’t actually go and see the shows that the contestants are trying to win a part in.

Let’s be honest here, if it wasn’t for the TV shows how long do you think a revival of Joseph in London would have run and would Oliver still be packing them in at the enormous Drury Lane theatre? I suspect not. After all it was not long after Lee Mead left Joseph that the show shut up shop, the same with Connie leaving The Sound of Music.

Webber seems to be able to pick the typical family friendly musical to clog up the West End with these reality shows.  How about he finds Kim for Miss Saigon or Mark in Rent, what about the leads for Light in the Piazza, or maybe finding the young cast of Spring Awakening would have meant that great show would have run and run?

You see, we are seeing the West End box office receipts breaking records at the moment which is a great thing, theatre would appear to be alive in kicking, but at closer inspection it’s these reality show musicals that are turning over big money, not the shows that the theatre goers really want to see (I told you I would sound bitter).  

So again Lord Webber takes his throne on the BBC show to listen to the desperate hopefuls sing the ‘classics’ in hopes to starring as Dorothy in the West End’s Wizard of Oz, I would place my bets now that after the winning contestant leaves the show, we will see that production close its doors not long after.

The artistic merit of the shows and the hard work the rest of the cast and creative put in no longer seems to matter, if you don’t have the tag ‘Starring the Winner of the BBC Hunt For’ splashed on the poster  it would appear that nobody seems to care for these revivals.

Webber was once a man who only had to write a new musical and the box office would set alight, but with many years of flops and misses he seems to have fitted in to this new role of TV star, however maybe if he paid more attention to his new shows like Phantom 2 instead of playing TV star, the reviews for that show might not have been so mixed.

Well now that’s off my chest I’m going to go and have a lie down

- Craig Hepworth