Okay. I should probably begin this with a disclaimer of sorts. If you’re
looking for an unbiased response to the final of Any Dream Will Do, then you’re not going to find it here. But the result did raise some interesting questions about the state of the West End.
But, may I return to the beginning? Congratulations to Lee Mead for putting
in consistently high performances each week, and especially in the final. I’ve
made no secret over the weeks to my family, friends, work colleagues, or anyone within earshot that I’ve wanted Lee to win. He has the talent, the charisma and the looks to pull off the role. Don’t discount the latter as trivial – it’s an important part of anyone’s theatrical career and especially for Joseph, who spends a large chunk of time in a loincloth. Not attractive enough and no one’s going to fork out £50 for a ticket, to be frank.
It’s been a great testing ground for all the finalists, and given most of them a great step forward in their careers (as it did for the Marias last year). But what kind of a future awaits them? It’s not entirely rosy as Lee’s participation shows. Despite everything he has going for him, and tons of experience, Lee’s discovered that the West End currently holds little hope for male singers. Imagine right now your favourite of the Josephs (yes, you all have one) and, working on the assumption he didn’t win, what would you now cast him in?
There’s not too much around is there? Perhaps entry to the tentpoles of the West End – shows such as Les Mis and Phantom – but breaking into those is nigh-on impossible as Lee proves. Otherwise, you usually have to look at rehashes of other people’s material (Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You etc), with no real lead roles. If anything ‘classic’ gets revived, it’s usually full of stunt casting or winners of Celebrity this or that (Chicago being a case in point).
I had originally intended to write this column as an indictment of the way that reality TV shows are taking over the West End (undoubtedly still a rant to come), but how can I say that when someone who fully deserves to be there and has been trying for years finally gets a break? Actually, you only have to look at the judging panel. John Barrowman may be announced as a West End star but even he has found it difficult to find a role worth his talent lately (and it took a TV show to bring him back to prominence). Can you name a good male performer in the West End who hasn’t come from another avenue (it’s not just reality shows – even Simon Russell Beale’s from ‘legitimate theatre’ as it’s loftily called)? Where are the show writers creating future classics?
I do worry for many of the other candidates. They’re not ready for the reality of their careers to come, as part of touring ensembles or on the cruise ships. Something that everyone in the West End has had to work through, although I’m sure Rob would be far happier doing that than continuing to work on a building site. I’m sure that Ben (despite not having the best voice, he has tons of charisma and is a born performer) and Lewis have the talent and charisma to be here for many years. But for what?
Please, please anyone out there, could we please have some decent shows to put them and people like them in? Stop bringing in Broadway imports that we don’t really care about and let’s have some strong shows back. They’re not called classics for nothing…
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat opens at the Adephi on July 18, previews from July 6 (020?7413 1777)