This week's competition began like all reality shows do in their halfway mark by, yet again, claiming that this week is really getting competitive.
Host Graham Norton let loose with "Tonight, the gloves are off," and "Your votes have never been so important." If that's true, I want the next West End reality series to begin with him saying, "Bo-ring. Everyone's being super nice right now right now, and quite frankly, your votes are meaningless for the next few weeks. So, sit back, relax, don't pick up your phone and wait 'til the real show begins in four weeks." Stop pretending anything is "heating up," "getting serious" or "really getting tense."
The "good news" is the reality show-style abuse of the contestants has finally begun, and thus they were all made to film a segment on who they think isn't right for the role of Nancy and why. As the film footage played, the girls were forced to stay onstage and watch. It was like when Alex DeLarge is made to watch those violent films in "A Clockwork Orange." But with a musical-theatre flair. After all the girls dished each other on film, the camera cut back to them looking in a state of shock. Graham Norton then informed us, "Ooh…it's going to be a very quiet car ride back to Nancy mansion." Brava!
This week we were informed that the song choices were going to highlight all the different sides of Nancy. Lord Lloyd Webber said that Nancy has to be warm, feisty, bubbly, a street girl…but most importantly a survivor. And by "survivor," he means someone who survives for an act-and-a-half and then perishes in a bloody heap. Jessie sang the Christina Aguilera song "Fighter" and sounded pretty good slash a little strainy on top. But I assumed it didn't matter because every time someone strains for a note and sounds raspy, the judges compliment them on their "grittiness." But this week some of the judges were not complimentary. John Barrowman said he heard her Irish accent…she said "ticker" instead of "thicker." Barry Humphries countered with "Nancy could have been Irish." John then said, "But people expect an East End accent." Barry then stared and said, "Why?" There was silence from John Barrowman, as my friend Tim piped up with "If I could tell the difference between an Irish and East End accent, maybe I would care." The Lord — in a know-it-all style — offered up the fact that "In the year Oliver takes place, there were 73,000 Irish in England." Okay, already! I had enough of Andrew Lloyd Wikipedia and got a Diet Snapple Iced Tea from the fridge and arrived back in time to see the Nancys on a field trip. They all went to see Celine Dion in concert, and it was very impressive to see that the producers of "I'd Do Anything" had enough pull to get them seats in the 30th balcony.
|photo by © BBC|
Niamh was up next singing "True Colors" to show what she said was her "mature and maternal side." Who's mature and maternal at 18? Besides Jamie Lynn Spears? And, I think she's actually 16. The audience always has to have a point where they break into applause, and it's usually on a high note or during a modulation, but this song is so mellow they just picked a random spot in the middle. I asked Tim what was so impressive about that point in the song, and all he could figure out was that it became slightly louder…from soft to mellow. After she sang, John said that "everyone tonight is having a little trouble." And by "everyone," he meant the first two singers. Barry said that he didn't think Niamh would be able to convincingly say to Bill Sykes, "I'll stick my nails into you and I don't care for the consequences." Hmm ... maybe during one of my signature arguments with James about whether or not to watch a political show (him) or a reality one (me), I'll try that line out. SETH: Let's watch "Top Model."
JAMES: Let's watch Keith Olbermann.
SETH: I'll stick my nails into you and I don't care for the consequences. JAMES: Tyra, here we come. Mission accomplished.
Up next was Ashley who sang the Bacharach and David classic, "I Say a Little Prayer for You." I thought she sounded good on it, but the judges said she was over-the-top and cheesy. Plus, Barry was charmingly passive/aggressive; last week after she sang he looked at her with a big smile and said, "You're still here!" This week he said, "Ashley, you're indestructible." But it was the Lord who was the harshest. He said that her performance was casual and that she "loitered" in front of the audience. Then he said that he coached her last week about connecting with the lyrics. "I tried so hard to try and make you understand." He said that she did it during his coaching, but tonight she didn't connect "remotely." He then quoted a lyric from the song to give her a final dish. "I run for the bus? That's what you should take!" YOWTCH! I'm glad she didn't sing the final song from 'night, Mother.
|photo by © BBC|
The Oliver boys took a field trip to re-create what is was like in a Victorian orphanage and had to deal with actress play an old crab of a teacher. She inspected their hands for cleanliness, then served them all a gruel made of vegetables, grain and bone marrow, aka The Atkins diet with vegetables and grain. Then all the boys sang a classic song from the movie "Bugsy Malone." Does anyone remember that movie? Also known as "Scott Baio is 11 playing 45…and single"? Jodie Foster as a young girl playing a vampy adult? Sort of a musical version of her role in "Taxi Driver"? Anybody? Next up was one of my faves, Samantha singing that Destiny's Child classic, "I'm a Survivor." My friend Tim was mind-boggled by the lyrics. She sang such Nancy-appropriate lyrics as "You thought I wouldn't sell without 'ya, I sold nine million." It's so specific to a recording artist! Then she hauled out, "I'm not gonna diss you on the Internet," which make no sense because during Oliver! Nancy disses Bill Sykes constantly on her blog. Regardless, I thought Samantha sounded fantastic! Barry also loved her and said, "It's very difficult to sing and dance in high heels….I should know." Brava, Ms. Edna!
Then Jodie was up, but first they showed a little update of what happened that week. Jodie said that she was paid a visit by "the love of her life," and I assumed she meant her fiancé. I rolled my eyes and waited for the smooching that was about to come to be over. Turns out, the love of her life is her dog! She hadn't seen him in weeks, so of course I went from rolling my eyes to having tears pouring out them. "Who's a good girl? You are!" After she sang, Barry complimented her diction and said, "I hear every single word….of a song I never heard before." Pause. "But that applies to every song." Brava! And I second him!
Rachel then sang "You've Got a Friend," which is a terrible song choice! Stop making these musical theatre actresses sing pop songs that paint one emotional color!! After she sang, Barry made the following comment, which obviously plunged her: "I see you as a great understudy, rather than a leading lady." Then Andrew Lloyd Webber said that she didn't tell the story. She countered him by saying she told her story. My friend Tim yelled at the screen, "What story? It's the same lyrics over and over again!"
|photo by © BBC|
The elimination episode began by showing the "Nancy Task" they had to perform that week: a choreographed fight scene. John talked about how Nancy has to fight Bill Sykes, and he tried to pretend how important it was for them to get it right. He said, with gravity, "If you don't get it right today…." My friend Tim chimed in with, "…you won't get it right six months from now after a long period of intensive rehearsals." Back at the studio, we found out that the bottom two were….Niamh and Ashley. They had to sing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," and I'm sure Ashley was terrified because The Lord had recently told her that she should "run for the bus." After they sang, he still deliberated for a while between them, but then, no surprise, ixnayed Ashley. In her farewell version of "As Long As He Needs Me," she held the word "needs" longer than anyone so far…but followed it with the lusty month of "Ma-a-a-ay!" We're actually nearing the end of the lusty month of May…and of this show! We'll soon have our Nancy!
(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway" and the novel "Broadway Nights." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals and hosts the BC/EFA benefit weekly interview show Seth's Broadway Chatterbox at Don't Tell Mama every Thursday at 6 PM. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)