This week the show began with everyone singing "Who Will Buy," the Act Two production number from Oliver! The audience clapped non-stop throughout. That makes me crazy. How about actually listening to the song??
When I worked on "The Rosie O'Donnell show," I wrote a lot of the parody production numbers. I tried to have every couple of lines end with a joke, hoping the song would be peppered with audience laughter throughout. But as soon as the performance would start, the audience would hear a beat and just obsessively start clapping along from start to finish. First of all, who actually enjoys the clapping? Not the people onstage being upstaged Not the people clapping who feel a responsibility to keep it going. Who? Or more accurately, whom? And, what's the purpose of drowning out the actual song? I'd ask myself why I wrote any lyrics because essentially Rosie could have just been singing "la la la" for three minutes accompanied by a drum machine, and the audience would have the same experience. Note to ticket buyers: The purpose of being an audience is to be an audience! Don't join in! Thank you.
"Who Will Buy" is about different street merchants selling their wares, and the ladies all held red roses. After the number, the host, Graham Norton, brought down the house when he said, "You can take those red roses back to Labor Central." Huh? Is that a political party? A location? A point in time? Suffice it to say, that joke is only funny in the 011 area code. Next, he put me in a state of dread when he informed us that we were going to see the Oliver boy contestants in a "High School Musical" challenge. C'mon!!! Are you telling me that "musical" has spread its tentacles across the sea? I thought it was only in U.S. ice skating rinks and saved on 'tween Tivos.
|photo by © BBC|
Before the performances Graham Norton reminded the viewing audiences about the lyrics that you can get on your TV set by saying, "You can sing along by pressing your red button" to which my friend Tim muttered, "That's what she said." We were also reminded with video footage about how angry Lord Lloyd Webber was last week when he felt that the wrong ladies were in the bottom two. This week he decided to privately coach them for their performances. We saw footage of him working with each contestant, and afterwards he said he thought that they'd all do brilliantly … if they remembered what he worked on with them. My friend Tim translated that to mean that all of The Lord's direction was amazing — it's only about if they remember it or not. Jodie was first up and (finally) sang a musical theatre song …"Luck Be a Lady." Not exactly "Meadowlark," but beggars can't be choosers. She said she loved working with Lord Lloyd Webber, and she couldn't believe that even with all he's done, he's such a humble man. Of course, her version of humble was "hoomble," but after numerous rewinds, I translated it. The judges yet again loved her. John Barrowman made me crazy, though, by saying that Jodie had a warble on the high notes, but it didn't matter because they're looking for acting. Ugh! Why aren't they looking for both? Why are they constantly reinforcing the stereotype that you can sound good or you can act a song? Note to the UK: You can do both! (please listen to any Patti LuPone or Betty Buckley recording). Denise said, "I've seen Ewan [McGregor, who sang "Luck Be a Lady" when he starred in Guys and Dolls in the West End], and I prefer Jodie!" Really? I've seen Ewan McGregor naked in "Trainspotting," and I prefer Ewan.
|photo by © BBC|
Next up was Sarah who sang "Mr. Bojangles." The judges are so obsessed with "acting" songs that Sarah must have felt the pressure because as she sang, she added more subtext than when Meryl had to make her Sophie's choice. Why? Isn't Mr. Bojangles just about a guy? Who dances? Why did I have to have to watch Uta Hagen sing it? Also, Sarah did a kooky pronunciation of "Bojangles." She literally said "Mr. Bo-jee-angles." Why does "Bojangles" have a liquid U? Barry Humphries said that she has a limited range of expression and on TV it works, but he's nervous it won't work in the theatre. John said he disagreed and that you'd be able to see her nuances from the back of the stalls. The Lord said that he felt responsible for her small performance. He had asked her to bring it back (meaning bring it down). He brought up a very valid point by saying that the show is very dichotomous because the ladies are supposed to give theatre performances to show they could do a West End show, but they're also mainly performing for a TV camera. Next up was my fave, Rachel. Unfortunately, they gave her "For Once in My Life," which is a fun song but has zero emotional journey. They also made it into a dance number, and even though she sounded great, the whole thing smelled of eau d' Vegas. The judges yet again loved her, thankfully. Then one of my other faves, Samantha, performed. Before she did, they had a film piece about her small hometown, The Isle of Man. They then announced that the name's been changed to "The Isle of Sam." Seriously. Graham Norton assured us that it wasn't a joke. But, for how long is the name changed? Forever? What about if she's voted off this week? Will they change the name to "The Isle of S(h)am(e)"?
Sam did a full song and dance number with back-up boys to the Dean Martin song "Sway." It was an impressive performance considering that she's only 17! Barry Humphries said that during her number he was thinking about what island he'd like to be shipwrecked on. It's always charming when a septuagenarian comes on to a teenager.
|photo by © BBC|
Then we saw all the boy contestants work on a "song" from "High School Musical," which literally consisted of them singing "Get, get, get, get, get the game," which prompted my friend Tim to ask, "Where, where, where, where, where's the song?" After the rehearsal, we found out that Harry has made it to the semi-finals. Then all the boys performed a "High School Musical" song in the studio. Tim and I had no idea why they were all wearing basketball uniforms because it had nothing to do with the song or the staging. They all stood in a formation and sang such deep lyrics as, "There's not a star in heaven we can't reach if we try." I think I preferred "get, get, get, get, get the game." After the number John said, "If I had 12 pairs of shoes, I'd hand them over because there's 12 leading men of the future standing there." Huh? Why shoes? Bizarre and vaguely self-congratulatory. Why couldn't he just say "good job"? Last week, the judges' comments to Jessie were about how she was changing to suit them and losing herself. This week, she was given the Judy Garland classic "The Man That Got Away" and after she sang it in rehearsal with the Lord, he told her that he had nothing to say…it was brilliant. He said that she's an extraordinary artist, and she must not be meddled with by people like him! Of course, typical of the keys chosen, during the performance it was so low for her that her voice was bottoming out until she finally stopped singing and spoke it, but by the end she was sounding great, and the Lord said it was the greatest performance he's ever heard a girl her age give. Wow! I was first thinking that it wasn't so amazing considering she's around 40, 'til I checked and found out that she's only 18. Brava!
Ashley said that she was nervous to work with the Lord because he's made it known that he's not a fan, but then she wound up finding him very helpful. She sang what they called the Shirley Bassey anthem, "Big Spender." Of course, she ended with the signature vowel changes the ladies have been using every week to make their high notes easier: "Spend a little time with me-e-e-e-e" became "Spend a little time with may-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay!" Since it actually is May, I forgave her. Also, I thought she did an interesting take on the song...very quirky and ironic.
The results show began by warning the ladies about the "curse of Barry." Every results show they ask the judges who they think will be voted off, and every week Barry has been correct! The ladies all sang a group number that Lionel Bart wrote, but wasn't from Oliver! It was the title song from Fings Ain't What They Used to Be. I loved it! It's so sixties and fun. I've got to try to track down that original cast CD at Tower Records. Oh…that closed? What about Footlight Records? Ouch. That, too? Well, what about records themselves? Huh? CD's? What the-?
The boys all sang Gypsy's "Together Wherever We Go" and got to pick a Nancy contestant to sing it with them. Sarah was chosen and she sounded great, but for some reason they kept the lyrics at the end the same where Mama Rose gently chides daughter Louise for dancing the wrong way. So there was an inexplicable close-up of Sarah singing "No, this way, Louise!" to no one in particular. She sort of gave it the energy of Hey! It's just a colloquial expression we all say…like, "No Way, Jose."
We then saw the rehearsal for the sing-off song. That's the song the bottom two contestants have to sing for Andrew Lloyd Webber, so he can "save" one of them. My favorite, Rachel, said, "You never prepare yourself fully because you don't want to be there." And, then, devastatingly, they announced Rachel was in the bottom two! I'm positive that it's because they gave her that song that had no journey and gave her choreography that consisted of walking and snapping! And, to make it worse, she was up against Sarah, whom I also love. Wah! They both had to sing the Sunset Boulevard song, "As If We Never Said Goodbye." The ending of the song, though, was rewritten. Instead of "We taught the world new ways to dream," they made them (pathetically) beg, "Oh, please don't ever, ever make me say goodbye." Unfortunately, the Lord did make one of them goodbye…Sarah. Because he had coached all the ladies, he blamed himself and told her, "You did exactly what I asked for, and I feel dreadful." Although, not dreadful enough to save her. She had to sing the farewell song, "As Long As He Needs Me" and took vowel changing to new heights. Instead of just modifying one of the words at the end to make it easier to sing, she let loose with "As long as hay-ay-ay-ay-ay, nay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ayds….MAY-AY-AY-AY-AY-!" Wow. Brava on the chutzpah!
Stay tuned for more competition, elimination and vowel obliteration!
(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.)