For those unaware of my last column, a little back-story is in order. Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber—arguably taking the biggest gamble of his career—has auditioned hundreds of hopefuls for the lead in The Sound Of Music, his imminent, West End opener. Side-stepping schmaltzy sentiment at any cost, Webber's unwavering commitment to his art produced ten, serious contender finalists. Or so it seemed. We hadn't reckoned with that sterling, English malady—sheer bloody-mindedness. On paper, up-market candidate Emily brought everything and more to the table. A classically trained, endearingly irreverent tomboy, she seemed the bubbly antithesis of stilted "luvvies."
How first impressions lie. Increasingly, Emily's manners—or more precisely, her lack of them—began to single-handedly justify Anglophobia. Surfing sky-high on a sense of unearned privilege, she smugly assumed her basic training made her a Minnelli in waiting, and let everyone know it. Sure, she could hit notes and explore multiple harmonies, but majoring in pre-emptive put-downs is the last resort of the scared rat. Terrified to face judges and audiences with a voice that'd won academic spurs but had questionable stamina—could she handle eight shows a week?—Emily chose to avoid the challenge completely, by writing a letter. How very prim and Victorian. Presumably, Emily hoped to save face by claiming allegiance to a higher, artistic goal, not wanting her dulcet tones "ruined" by the crass world of musical theatre.
Quite rightly, host Graham Norton rubbished her every, disingenuous sentiment, reading her letter on air. Cruel? Hardly. It could have been so different. Had Emily simply ejected English reticence and expressed her fears of being stretched, she might have flourished. Instead, we lost a sparky candidate—and possibly a furious, future diva! (Not that you'd recognize the above scenario from the internet chatter. To many bloggers, Emily's become the patron saint of willful self-indulgence, a poor wee lambkin slaughtered to the gods of healthy box-office.)
By any standards, "Maria" is the Mercedes-Benz of current, UK reality shows. The hidden cameras in the Maria House—where the hopefuls have to live, work and polish their skills together—revealed bitchy rivalry. Thankfully avoiding the near-imbecile angst of low-end, trauma TV, the show grounds viewers in a frighteningly real audition process. Why, if anything, it's been softened for public consumption, but with verdicts as steely as a CSI investigation.
Episode Two, most certainly, was a perfect case in point. Would Emily's mawkish, kamikaze grandstanding steal any remaining thunder? Not so you'd notice. Then again, our ten possible Von Trapps had a restored, secret ingredient—Siobhan, called back to replace dear Emily.
Eliminated in the previous episode, the show's very own Gorgeous Maria—all tumbling, blonde locks and Pamela Anderson oomph—came back with a vengeance. Her chosen showcase? Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like a Woman." Even so, the panel—voice-coach Zoe Tyler, co-producer David Ian and rising star John Barrowman—seemed unimpressed. "You could be singing 'Baa! Baa! Blacksheep,'" Zoe chided, presumably referring to Siobhan's shaky mastery of scales. Even former Siobhan supporter David Ian had his doubts. "You need to up your game," he stated, looking perturbed.
Baby Maria Leanne—the self-taught prodigy—raised jaundiced ears with a sultry take on Bjork's "It's So Quiet." Suddenly, David Ian was beaming. "I'm only worried you come across as so young," he gushed. "Otherwise I think you did a fantastic job." Sadly, Demure Maria—aka Aoife—drew only lukewarm comments for an attempt on "Runaway," but at least avoided the withering scorn accorded Abi—aka Tom Boy Maria. Audaciously tackling "Nobody Does It Better," she virtually invited Zoe Tyler's bile. "Unfortunately, they do," the vocal coach purred. "And you hit some bum notes." Amazingly, Brash Maria Meliz—cursed with intermittently present diction—barnstormed through "Son of a Preacher Man," even surpassing one Dusty Springfield in Webber's eyes. "You out-Dusty'd her," he grinned, "and acted the song brilliantly." Andrew also perked up for Intense Maria Connie's "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman," though a double dose of "Over the Rainbow," in the Eva Cassidy and Garland arrangements, visibly strained panel patience. The culprits? Rumanian Diva Maria, Simona, and Operatic Maria, Belinda. After that, Earnest Maria Helena's "Crazy Chick" drew faint praise from John Barrowman, but the irony of ironies came with Police Maria, Laura, Emily's face-off rival from the previous episode.
Singing Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" (apart, perhaps?), the policewoman unknowingly sang her own epitaph. Forced to sing Webber's own "No Matter What" against Helena's spin on the song, she lost, sung into oblivion by a massed rendition of The Sound of Music's "So Long, Farewell." Now that, my dears, is an exit line!