The second to last episode of "I'd Do Anything." Oy already, when will it end? Oh, wait, it has, and I'm the one who's prolonging it by writing a new column every ten days. Fine, off my back. Anyhoo, the semi-finals, as they're called, opened up with the four remaining ladies (Rachel, Jessie, Samantha and Jodie) singing "Food Glorious Food" with the little boys up for Oliver. It reminded me of when I did Oliver as a youngster. I was cast as a workhouse boy, but not part of Fagin's gang. I never knew why — perhaps because of the spare tire circling my stomach and, as they call it in England, my arse. My point is, I was in the opening workhouse scene, but didn't get to be in any other big musical numbers, so "Food, Glorious Food" has always meant something special to me. It meant "Enjoy this number, because you're essentially offstage for the next two hours."
For this episode, the judging panel was joined by a Sir. No, it wasn't Marcie addressing Peppermint Patty, it was Sir Cameron, who's producing this Oliver! on the West End. We saw a clip of all the judges discussing the remaining Nancys. They were sitting around a luxurious table drinking from goblets in what looked like a castle. I didn't know if they were at a restaurant in a Renaissance Fair or Andrew Lloyd Webber's breakfast nook. They were giving the plusses and minuses of each remaining contestant and finally said, "All four could be Nancy in a completely different way," to which my friend Tim added, "Some of them, terribly." Sir Cameron said, for some reason, "I always look for a raw and untried Nancy for my shows." For all of his shows? There was a very raw one in Miss Saigon and a medium-rare one in Les Miz. Steak humor? Anybody?
Lord Lloyd Webber coached the Nancys and hauled out his signature, "I hope they give the performance I got out of them in rehearsal." AKA, if you don't like their performance, it's their fault, not mine.
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First up was my favorite, Rachel. Or as they write in England, my favourite. She'd been in the bottom two before and was hoping to deliver a knock-out punch. I was thankful that she sang a musical theatre song, but not that thankful it was the song "Cabaret." That song is like "Everything's Coming Up Roses." It's weird to do it out of context. Do you sing it like it is the show? A fake-happy song of denial? Or do you do it as an actual cabaret act? Rachel did it like an act complete with back-up boys. She skipped the whole section about "I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie…" and went right to "And as for me, as for me." She then made the bold, and possibly headache-y choice to sing. . . I made my mind up back in Chelsea
When I go-o-o-o-o-
I'm goin' like
What? Oh. I get it…I guess. After she sang Denise said that she was "shaking from excitement." (PS, I would be, too….sitting next to John Barrowman. I know I'm shallow, but I'm a sucker for a gorgeous face, gorgeous body and total inaccessibility.) Sir Cameron said, "You took a wonderfully well-known song and fused it with your own personality. I would love to see you play Nancy." So would I, Sir Cameron, so would I.
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Next up was Jessie who wore a silver dress, sat in a chair and sang "What I Did For Love." It smelled of a seventies TV special and Tim piped up with "…and starring Susan Anton." Plus, Jessie's version of selling it was acting every single phrase, word, syllable and eight-note rest. Note to Jessie: You can act the song without showing me you're acting the song. Kiss (wistful) today (stern) Goodbye (melancholy turning to steely resolve). I was exhausted keeping track of all that subtext. By the end, I felt like I had just read "The Iliad." John was not pleased and said that she was indicating and that it was boring(!). She said, "What can I do to excite you?" There was a lot of awkward laughing and then John said, "That's a question a lot of women have asked." Brava! Barry, however, loved her performance. Denise said it was a good performance and Sir Andrew said that she had star quality…as in "just a little touch of star quality." Then to keep the seventies variety-show vibe going, Samantha and Jodie teamed up for the title song from Jesus Christ Superstar. Jodie didn't sound great, but she added Jessie-style acting choices. As I was watching, I asked the screen, "Jodie! Why so much acting?" and Tim added, "And so little singing." Brava. Sir Lloyd Webber loved it and asked, "Who says the Nancys can't rock?" I hope that was a rhetorical question. The host, Graham Norton, asked him to compare them both. The Lord said, "I'm not going to compare them!" And then went on to say, "One is the real great raunchy singing and the other is the great one on top." Huh? I'm not going to compare them? A. You did and B. It made no sense. Then Tim paused the screen and made me look at the various colors Lloyd Webber's hair is. Tim said his hair has actually become the Technicolor dreamcoat. We started naming the colors (blond and brown and gray and black…) and segued to "Lemon and russet and violet and fawn…and purple and white and pink and orange and blue!"
The boys then sang "Where is Love?" as their final audition, and then the three Olivers were revealed: Gwion, Lawrence and Harry. There's been so little distinction between the boys from week to week that Graham might as well have announced, "Anonymous," "Stranger" and "Will o' the wisp." I had no memory of any of them, except that I think I was thankful one week that Lawrence has a vibrato.
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Next up was Samantha, and beforehand we heard the judges say that Samantha does anger and aggression well, but she has yet to move them. She sang, "When you Believe" from "Prince of Egypt" and sounded great as usual. Barry Humphries said, "You are the bees knees and the cats whiskers." Huh? Isn't it "the cats pajamas"? Another annoying British-ism?
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Finally, Jodie hit the stage. She sang that "Fame" classic, "Out Here On My Own." I thought her acting was great and very real. She got a standing O (like Rachel did) and then Denise (who was crying) said that she wanted to give her a hug. John loved the emotional simplicity… but Barry said that she had been accused of overacting and perhaps now she was too restrained. Then Sir Cameron said he felt she was too matronly (what every woman longs to hear) and that he wants to hear gin toddies in her voice (what every active alcoholic longs to hear). The Lord hauled out his signature, "Tomorrow night will be the most difficult night I've had" routine, and then Graham Norton said, "Your votes at home have never been so important." Actually, he said that they've never "beeen" so important. PS, do you know that lyric in Evita that goes "but that doesn't mean I should change my routine" was different when the show was first in London because of the accent? It was "But I'm no has-been, it's the same old routine." Just a little trivia for 'ya!
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The results show began by showing us the mission all the Nancys had to do. They all stayed in a real Victorian house for the night to see what it was like for Nancy back in the day. It had the essence of PBS's "Manor House" mixed with MTV's "Real World." Then all the Nancys had to do "As Long As He Needs Me" as a monologue (!?) for Barry Humphries (?!). I ignored the bizarreness of the situation because he liked Rachel the best! He said he saw something he hasn't seen from her before: She is a commanding leading lady, and her interpretation was the most imaginative! Then, the bizarreness came into full bloom. Graham said the ladies were gonna go from the nineteenth century to the 1960's, and they sang a group version of "Hard Days Night." Quite frankly, it was a hard day's night listening to it. A. It's not a girl number. B. It's not a group number. C. It doesn't show off anybody's voice. My question is: How did they get the rights for the staging of it from Cedar Point Amusement Park?
The judges were then asked who they thought wasn't right for Nancy. John and Denise said Jessie, but Barry and Cameron said Jodie! Cameron thinks she doesn't have the grit for the role. Finally, the bottom two were announced: Samantha and……RACHEL! I was devastated! Lloyd Webber said that this was absolutely the result he didn't want. I'm sure that Jodie and Jessie glared at him. Rachel and Samantha had to do a duet version of "Memory" for the sing-off. Their solos went back and forth, and I wondered who was going to get to belt the high D flat on "Touch me!....". My question was answered with the following information: A. They sang that part in unison B. it was transposed down so it was a deliciously bland B flat. And, for you algebra fans, A+ B = I've had it with British reality shows. Lloyd Webber looked incredibly stressed trying to decide and finally said, "I have to go with where I think the show will go." I don't know what that meant, but he ixnayed Rachel! I'm still devastated to this day (which is essentially seven weeks after the show actually aired due to my laziness). The good news is, John and Denise looked as devastated as I did. I'm sure, though, that Rachel will do a West End show as a lead...she's amazing! All right, people, next column is the finale! Who's gonna win??? What? It was announced forever ago? Oh. Okay, then, let's discuss if Kelli or Patti is gonna win the Tony! What? That, too? Um…gotta go.
(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.)