Talent shows will keep West End
centre-stage, says Lloyd Webber

~ Telegraph - 22/03/07 ~

Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer, defended his use of television talent shows to find new stage stars by warning yesterday that the West End theatre's position as a world-beater could be threatened because of a shortage of talent for musicals.

He said that there were no more than a handful of British actors with singing and dancing talents to fill the lead roles in big scale London shows.

He aired his worries as it was disclosed that a bricklayer, a clothes shop assistant, a "cement administrator" and two schoolboys will be among the 12 finalists of a talent show to find an actor to play the title role in a West End revival of his 1968 show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Musicals - notably Spamalot , Wicked, Evita and The Sound of Music - helped the West End to record box offices last year. But Lloyd Webber, 59 today, said that he could name only two British-born actors, Michael Ball and John Barrowman, who were capable of stepping into lead roles. He added: "There aren't that many female stars in musical theatre."

He said that musicals may fail to attract strong talent because they were considered a marginal activity. While actors in straight stage plays, television and film, attracted big exposure, musical theatre was "put into a box".

His new talent show - a 12-part series, Any Dream Will Do starting on BBC1 on March 31, follows How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? That was a similar exercise last year which resulted in Connie Fisher, a telesales girl from Cardiff, winning the role of Maria in the London revival of The Sound of Music, produced by Lloyd Webber.

Picking unknown stars via talent shows has attracted strong criticism. Equity, the actors' union, complained that it was insulting to professional actors. Trevor Nunn, the theatre director and a frequent collaborator with the composer, said that the practice was designed to exploit distress and failure for entertainment.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? was nevertheless a huge success, attracting almost eight million viewers for the final. And it launched Fisher as a new star. She has just returned to the West End production after a two-week break caused by straining a throat muscle after giving 98 continuous performances.

Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, based on the Biblical story of Joseph and his "coat of many colours", was the second musical written by Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in the 1960s. On stage and screen, the lead role has been taken by Donny Osmond, Jason Donovan, Phillip Schofield and Stephen Gately.

Several thousand hopefuls applied for the new talent show, but producers would reveal few details of the finalists yesterday other than to say that almost all were complete unknowns.

They include a bricklayer from the north of England, a man who described his job as a "cement administrator" and two 17-year-old schoolboys.

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