Over the Rainbow is a talent show worth taking seriously

Shows such as The X Factor are hit and miss when it comes to launching stars. But Andrew Lloyd Webber's show excels in finding bright new talent that can stay the distance


Graham Norton and Andrew Lloyd Webber are looking for Dorothy in BBC1's Over the Rainbow. Photograph: BBC/Talkback Thames/Ken McKay

When Jedward were dropped after one single, few people were surprised. Television talent shows are not, after all, expected to regularly churn out stars that can survive in the real world – for every Leona Lewis there is a corresponding Leon Jackson. And yet those keen to ensure the future of live theatre are rather less dismissive of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hunt for a new Dorothy, which begins on BBC1 tonight. In fact, Over the Rainbow and its ilk may well be the best thing to have happened to UK theatre and live performance for some time.

Over The Rainbow

  1. Next on:
    1. Tomorrow at 19:10 on BBC HD
    2. Tomorrow at 19:10 on BBC 1 London
    3. Sunday 2nd May at 19:15 on BBC HD
    4. Sunday 2nd May at 19:15 on BBC 1 London
    5. Saturday 8th May at 18:45 on BBC HD
    6. Saturday 8th May at 18:45 on BBC 1 London
    7. Sunday 9th May at 19:15 on BBC 1 London
    8. Sunday 9th May at 19:15 on BBC HD
  2. Remind Me:
    Every time Over The Rainbow is on BBC HD
    Every time Over The Rainbow is on any Satellite & Cable channels
    By Emailing
    (Emails are free and are sent the morning before the show is on TV).
  3. Catch-up now:
    1. Over the Rainbow - 10. Show 6: Results
    2. Over the Rainbow - 9. Show 6

Should you fancy a credible career in the performing arts, and have the talent to back it up, then battling to be Lloyd Webber's Dorothy in his new production of The Wizard of Oz might be a pretty smart move. Connie Fisher, Lee Mead and Jodie Prenger have all gone on to lead WestEnd shows – but those who didn't win the competition have also carved great careers for themselves. Fourth-placed Nancy Rachel Tucker is about to embark on the challenge of Elphaba in Wicked; fifth-placed Niamh Perry is creating the part of Fleck in Love Never Dies. Of the Josephs, everyone seems to have forgotten that Daniel Boys first came to prominence through Any Dream Will Do? – mainly because his work in Avenue Q over the past two years speaks for itself. Former Maria Aoife Mulholland, meanwhile, is now flashing the best abs in the business on a nightly basis at the Savoy Theatre as Brooke Wyndham in Legally Blonde.

And before the complaints that reality TV casting offers shortcuts into showbusiness, allowing untrained amateurs to leapfrog hardworking professionals, remember that many of the Lloydd-Webber alumni have had training or some kind of professional experience. Fisher had graduated from drama school; Mead had been part of the company of Phantom Of The Opera; Prenger had been working as a cabaret singer. Those who didn't have training – Nancy runner-up Jessie Buckley notoriously bewailed her multiple rejections from drama school – clearly have talent that would lead to success anyway, regardless of whether or not they were on the telly.

In any case, whether or not you approve of the way in which these actors have been cast, it's difficult to ignore the fact that UK theatre ticket sales are up – and a big weekend reality series must have played a part in that. (Let's face it, we've all seen enough productions of The Sounds of Music, Joseph and Oliver! to never really need to see them again). And yet, we all have been – for which we all owe a debt of thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber. No, really, we do.

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  • jabhead jabhead

    26 Mar 2010, 4:22PM

    I don't think you've quite followed the argument through properly here.

    Ticket sales are up because Andrew Lloyd-Webber runs a 10-week advert on TV - and this is supposed to be a good thing?

    Ticket sales are up because this is a continuation of a worrying trend - that the general public will only go to the theatre not because the theatre itself is worth seeing but because they want to see someone off the telly do a show that they already know.

    Would Jerusalem have been improved by Mark Rylance being replaced by a 5th place Joseph?

    These shows give a false impression of the reality of the world of theatre and casting, and elevates the already over-elevated status of people like Lloyd-Webber. Despite what Sheila Hancock says these are nothing like actual auditions - I've never stood in a room singing a song simultaneously with 50 other people whilst John Barrowman wanders between us, whispering in our ears 'You could be Joseph...'. Real auditions are a two-way, professional dialogue.

    These shows are not good for theatre - they are good for the commercial interests of many, but in the grand scheme of things are another death in the war of attrition against the history and integrity of British Theatre.

    Regardless of the fact that several of the winners have been trained, there is precious little mention of this on the shows - they still like to maintain the impression that these are people off the street, 'undiscovered' talents.

    Let us not forget that Connie Fisher wasn't up to the job of singing 8 shows a week as Maria because she simply wasn't experienced enough. She had understudies going on and suffered from illness and vocal problems.

  • rafathegaffer rafathegaffer

    26 Mar 2010, 4:52PM

    You ignore a few key things here.

    Andrew Lloyd Webber could just run a series of auditions himself and find someone desperate to be Nancy, Joseph etc. There is plenty of talent out there. Instead, he uses the BBC to promote HIS shows and make millions off the back of it. Who profits from that? Does ALW hand a bit back to the licence fee payer? I don't think so.

    Jodie Prenger was not his or Cameron's choice, yet they had to go with her because the public chose her.

    I'm just bored of the "celebrity" element to theatre. I have been to see Hairspray, Oliver, Priscilla in the last few months and all the so called "stars" have been absent at every show. Now I don't mind, but I think to the majority of new theatre goers this is misleading promotion - they tell you these stars are there, you book tickets and there is no course of action if they aren't on!!!!

    Chicago is a classic example of a musical that has the "celebrity" headliner. Omid Djalili wasn't there on the night I saw Oliver, but Prenger was and I was thoroughly underwelmed by her performance.

    Anybody who has attended the West End over the years can never fail to be wowed by the talent on stage and virtually all of these people have done it the proper way - through auditions and hard work. We don't need celebs on stage, we need performers. It used to be that the star talent in theatre became famous because of their talent - now they are famous because they appear on a talent show.

    Jodie Prenger is the epitomy of that. She has no stage presence or star quality - it's shameful really.

  • stevenperkins stevenperkins

    26 Mar 2010, 5:07PM

    Jodie Prenger was not his or Cameron's choice, yet they had to go with her because the public chose her.

    Then again, it's worth remembering that Andrew and Cameron's choice for the part was Jessie, whose ability to emote began and ended with looking over her shoulder and touching her hair, so they don't always make the right decision either.

  • davidabsalom davidabsalom

    26 Mar 2010, 5:20PM

    It wouldn't be so bad if they just concentrated on the attributes needed for the role, but instead they try to find an all-round entertainer. Since when did Maria need to sing power ballads?

  • bemuseduk bemuseduk

    26 Mar 2010, 7:37PM

    OMG! Yet more mindless pap for the Proles.
    Does His Lordship have a contract with the BBC allowing him unlimited free publicity for his shows??
    Or, ( God forbid), does he actually get paid to make these cringe-making appearances?
    Is part of my licence fee helping to line this multi-multi-millionaire's pockets?
    Has he nothing better to do with his time?
    Surely they need more leper colonies in Africa....and that might provide a stimulus for a new musical in a couple of years.
    There's an original idea for you Andrew ( if you'll forgive the familiarity).

  • wormsonfilm wormsonfilm

    26 Mar 2010, 8:01PM

    "Let's face it, we've all seen enough productions of The Sounds of Music, Joseph and Oliver! to never really need to see them again. And yet, we all have been"

    No we haven't.

    Was this article written purely to rile the masses? If so, well done.

  • jizzmonkey jizzmonkey

    26 Mar 2010, 8:26PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.
  • Wanchai Wanchai

    27 Mar 2010, 12:41AM

    Absolutely right Carrie! I.am.sick.to.death.of patronising.CIF.commenters. (how annoying is it to have to type all those full stops !!) There are so many many talented performers in this country, I know because I have done the rounds of the theatre school productions/ auditions. I have always thought it was no bad thing to provide them with another opportunity and on Tuesday I sat in on the filming of Saturdays's show. I could not believe the show put on by the 20 girls, no need for more than one take, every one hugely talented, the only way you could differentiate is their ability to do this role. Jodie Prenger might be a bit raspy at times but she fills the boots, it works in the role, and who can argue with all the people that voted for her (apart from a CIF commenter). I am sure the winning Dorothy will be equally good and at least two of them are going to be huge stars in the West End

  • balcony39 balcony39

    27 Mar 2010, 10:48AM

    Seems to me that an important point has been missed here. The article and the bulk of the responses refers to the "work" of ALW as theatre. Surely we do need to be clearer with the genre here, his contribution to the London Theatre land is all about the musical. Theatre is where actors (remember them), some of them perhaps well known, perform by speaking and very very little dancing takes place. The monopoly of ALW and his genre has sidelined the work of real theatre, pushing it further from the bigger theatres.
    As for the issue of this show getting a freebie ad from the BBC, this has been clear to see for the number of years our Saturday nights have been dominated by a big early evening blank.
    Its enough to get one into late night weekend shopping.

  • ajchm ajchm

    27 Mar 2010, 11:35AM

    I'm not usually a fan of talent shows as its all about the egos of the judges, but we do like the BBC / Andrew Lloyd Webber shows - its good family entertainment for those of us where the most exciting thing to happen in weeks on a Sat evening was deciding to call a pizza rather than buy one from ASDA (yes parenthood is that boring). There's always a more sophisicated option to contrast on BBC2 on Sat evenings, or do what we can't and go out! The other good thing about the shows is it does promote a far more wholesome entertainment type than shows like the X Factor - the lyrics are often highly inappropriate for 8 year olds.

  • Wanchai Wanchai

    27 Mar 2010, 12:24PM

    @balcony 39 Sorry but musicals are theatre, like it or not, and musical stars do the lot, sing, dance AND act, it's what all actors train in at Drama School and plenty of actors cross between drama, comedy and musicals. Jonathan Pryce, Sheridan Smith, Imelda Staunton etc. etc. And the same applies to the audiences, those kids who get inspired by Over The Rainbow to go and see the production will get a taste of the magic of theatre and many will go on to watch serious drama. I could not have inspired such a love of theatre in my 8 year old with a trip to see a serious drama (His Dark Materials at the National excepted) beyond her comprehension but now she is 14 I can. Revitalising the West End with musicals has given actors work and the rest of theatre a bigger audience., though one suspects many CIF commenters would prefer the "proles" stayed at home and behaved like good little stereotypes, so that they can wallow in their illusions of superiority!

  • JenJen2 JenJen2

    27 Mar 2010, 6:35PM

    I've never been able to summon up that much sympathy for the professionals who get roles "the proper way" being barred from ALW's shows.

    Sorry, I'm sure that stage school is a hell of a lot of hard work, but let's be honest, the vast majority of those who attend them are their because their parents paid for it. There are huge numbers of people who have the talent but not the security to commit completely to a one-track eduction- the Dorothy from Bridgend who worked in a bank is a prime example. As frustrating as it must be for people who work their whole lives for something and then get pipped at the post by someone who just came in off the street, they can hardly argue it's unfair when they've had such an unequal advantage in the first place.

  • frankie01 frankie01

    27 Mar 2010, 11:33PM

    We hardly owe anything to Lloyd Webber for using 10 weeks of Saturday nights to promote a show which he's producing! I've heard he's also using the opportunity to write a couple of (what will be predictably awful) new songs for the 'Wizard of Oz', ruining a perfectly wonderful musical in the process. Why even attempt to cast 'Dorothy'? Judy Garland is unsurpassable!

  • Jamie24 Jamie24

    28 Mar 2010, 10:06AM


    Why even attempt to cast 'Dorothy'? Judy Garland is unsurpassable!

    Er, because Ms Garland is dead, and therefore unlikely to make a West End comeback, even for ALW.

  • Senton Senton

    28 Mar 2010, 4:55PM

    Getting the candidates to sing 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' over and over together - many of them already in tears - when they have ALREADY chosen the next batch? While Ms.Church walks around and taps them out, to prolong the agony even further?? The words mental torture and trauma spring to mind. A cruel and horrific process - and not representative of anyone worth working for in the real marketplace.

  • AliLind AliLind

    28 Mar 2010, 7:57PM

    Certainly these shows aren't great telly - the bits I've caught have been gruesome. But I'd agree with the blog that some stars have been born who probably, otherwise, would have been unknowns. So far I've seen two pipped-to-the-post Nancys in shows and both were outstanding. Sam Barks was excellent in Cabaret last year and I just got back from Paris where Francesca Jackson was an absolute revelation in A Little Night Music. She got a standing ovation, five star reviews... just brilliant. So yes, these shows are crap TV but great for the theatre.

  • tyorkshiretealass tyorkshiretealass

    29 Mar 2010, 5:11PM

    Re: Jodie vs Jessie - I suspect ALW and Cameron Mackintosh only wanted Jessie because she was (how shall I put this?) more conventionally shaped. Considering that Jodie's 'story' involved her going on the UK version of The Biggest Loser and losing about eight stone, it was inevitable that Webber and Mackintosh would mentally label her 'the fat one', and consequently that Barrowman, Van Outen and the public would root for her. Hence why I died laughing at the start of the Friday show when ALW was going on about 'the public making the right decision' - some quality lying through one's teeth there.

    On that note, and the subject of Rachel Tucker, ALW needs to stop voting to keep in who he wants if the public says otherwise. When the same person is in your bottom two for a good couple of weeks on the trot, surely that means the voters won't pay £30 a pop to see them in a musical, and that's the point when you should get rid. He did it with pretty boy Lewis over vastly better candidates in Joseph as well. (And speaking of Lewis, can you please stick to what you said you wanted - ie, not a Judy Garland, or in the Josephs' case not a Jason Donovan - and not kick out all the 'edgier' ones early on this year please?)

    Of the previous contestants, the only two I've seen were Ben James-Ellis (as he is now called) in Hairspray and Daniel Boys in Avenue Q, both of whom were very good. The rest seem to have faded into obscurity a bit - what exactly is Lee Mead famous for now other than knocking up Denise Van Outen?

  • AlexJones AlexJones

    30 Mar 2010, 9:57AM

    I agree with Senton. The whole process seems designed to humiliate the contestants. At least in an ordinary professional audition, you'd do your bit in front of a handful of people, and they might be rude to you, but then it's over. On these kinds of shows, people stand exposed in front of an audience of millions, and then their worst humiliations made available on YouTube for people to watch over and over again. It's just horrible.

    Oh, and one more thing: I saw Lloyd Webber quoted as saying they didn't want someone who was exactly like Judy Garland, they wanted someone fresh and original. I'd bet my last dollar that they'll end up with someone as like Garland as it's possible to get.

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