He’s found his Maria for The Sound of Music, his Nancy in Oliver!, and his Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and now he’s on the hunt for a Dorothy (and Toto!) to star in the West End revival of The Wizard of Oz. Hundreds of musical theatre hopefuls have auditioned for the show, in hopes of getting a chance to audition for Lord Lloyd Webber himself. In the premiere episode, the final 50 girls will be whittled down to the 20 who will continue on the yellow brick road towards stardom.
Lloyd Webber, whose Love Never Dies just opened in the West End, will serve as one on a panel of judges on the show. He will be joined by singer Charlotte Church and actors Sheila Hancock and John Partridge. Graham Norton will host the show.
In an article he penned recently for London’s Telegraph newspaper, Lloyd Webber looked back on the beginning of what would become his casting show phenomenon. “Of course, we started with the entire theatre establishment against us,” Lloyd Webber said. But the benefits, he said, have far outweighed any initial qualms about the shows.
“The television shows have considerably increased theatre-going in general,” he said. “In 2007, the year after Maria, an extra 1.25 million people visited plays, musicals, opera and dance in the capital. Many theatres, according to the Society of London Theatres, reported an overwhelming number of first-time visitors.”
“In short, in just a few years, theatre has become cool again,” he said.
A recent post by Carrie Dunn on The Guardian’s culture blog agreed with Lloyd Webber’s assessment. “Whether or not you approve of the way in which these actors have been cast, it's difficult to ignore the fact that UK theatre ticket sales are up – and a big weekend reality series must have played a part in that,” Dunn said.
“Over The Rainbow” airs Fridays on BBC1. For more information, visit www.bbc.co.uk/dorothy .
- Gemma Wilson