Brief Encounter with ... Superstar casting director David GrindrodDate: 5 July 2012
David Grindrod is a West End casting legend. Having enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership with Andrew Lloyd Webber, he now runs his own company based at the Palace Theatre (the former home of Whatsonstage.com, of course!).
Shows that he’s been involved with over the years include some of the West End’s biggest hitters - The Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Hairspray, Ghost and Starlight Express.
He has also worked on all of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV casting shows, including Any Dream Will Do, I’d Do Anything and Over the Rainbow .
Their latest project together is Superstar, which begins broadcasting this Saturday and will find an actor to play the title role in a forthcoming stadium tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. The winner will join a cast that includes Tim Minchin as Judas, Melanie C as Mary Magdalene and Chris Moyles as Herod.
Whatsonstage.com’s Glenn Meads will be live blogging Superstar, so look out for his entries from next week.
What's your thinking behind the casting of Superstar?
We met Tim Minchin at the press night of Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway. He was sitting in front of Andrew and said, “I’d really love to play Judas – I love this role, I love this show. It’s the whole essence of why I love musicals, the show was a benchmark for me.” He was so excited by it. And in the interval again I got collared by him saying, “I want to play Judas.”
So anyway, we went to the party and had a great time then a few weeks later we were talking about various names and by that time Andrew had taken Tim out for lunch and got to know him properly. He rang me and said “What about Tim then? He’s passionate for the show, and for the role.” I said I wasn’t sure because I didn’t know his voice, but I made a couple of phonecalls and was told that he knows his voice so well that he wouldn’t be putting himself up for it if he couldn’t sing it. And then we did a session with him on the piano and it turned out, of course, that he can sing it.
How did Mel C and Chris Moyles get involved?
I remembered Mel from when we did Over the Rainbow - we gave the Dorothys some girls to work with and she was one of them, because she was doing Blood Brothers at the time. I went to see her in the show and loved what she did with the role, she was great. Also, she seemed to come over really well off stage, which is important. Anyway, she initially got involved as a panellist for the auditions but then Andrew said “why doesn’t Mel play Mary?”. She certainly ticked the boxes, not least because she’s played big stadiums as part of the Spice Girls. So we asked her to do a session round the piano with Andrew and the rest is history.
Chris was Andrew’s idea. He’d met him a few months back and knew that he could sing. We wanted a character who was a bit larger than life and he fitted the bill. But he also had to come in and do a session round the piano. You must remember that everyone we cast in a show, whether it’s Michael Ball in Hairspray or Amanda Holden in Shrek, has to come and audition. Poor Michael when he came in for Edna said “but I’m Michael Ball, it’s me”, and I said yes, but the Americans don't know who you are and you’ve got to come and prove it – and bless him, he did. And so did Chris - you’re going to get a shock when you come to the arena and hear him sing!
This is now your fifth TV casting show. What exactly is your level of involvement?
Some people have said that casting Jesus this way is a bit tasteless
Superstar judges Jason Donovan, Andrew Lloyd Webber & Dawn French
It’s a role in a show. It’s a character in a production that just happens to be called Jesus. It’s one of the major shows – it’s one of the major singing roles that any tenor would give their right arm to play. And I have to say that this has been the most difficult one so far – it’s tricky because they have to sing a certain number and they have to hit certain notes and those notes cannot be changed. I think we had around 3000 applicants initially – I never thought we’d get that many because firstly, we’re looking for a man and secondly, we’re looking for a tenor. So it’s a tricky thing to find. I think we’ve found a very good ten people that you will see on your screen shortly.
Are you looking for something specific for each role?
How have you found the transition to ITV?
“Do you think stadium musicals are the way forward?
I just think it’s an interesting way to go. If people do want names in shows, it’s difficult to get names to actually commit for longer than three months and to the eight performances a week a West End show demands. Doing something like this, in an arena, they only have to commit for a month to six weeks. Also, they are playing big stadiums so they can earn a substantial amount of money as well. Plus, isn’t it exciting to play an arena in front of thousands people? I did Andrew’s Starlight Express, which we took to Japan and Australia in the late 80s. It was the first time one of Andrew’s shows had been in an arena and I’d never heard anything like all those people screaming.
You’ve had an amazing career and worked on some of the biggest shows of the past few decades. Any particular highlights?
Who is the greatest musical theatre performer you’ve worked with?
I’ll re-phrase: What makes a great musical performer?
What advice do you have for any aspiring actors?
Superstar begins broadcasting on Saturday (7 July 2012) at 7.25pm. The tour kicks off at London’s O2 Arena on 21/22 September, before visiting: Glasgow SECC (25 September), Newcastle Metro Radio Arena (28 September), Manchester Arena (30 September), Cardiff Motorpoint (2 October), Birmingham NIA (4 October), Belfast Odyssey (9 October), Dublin O2 (12 October), Liverpool Echo Arena (16 October), Nottingham Capital FM Arena (19 October) and Sheffield Motorpoint (21 October).