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Ian Cheeseman: Break-a-Leg

If you’re a regular reader of this column, or a listener to the Break-a-Leg radio show, you’ll know I’m a huge Abba fan and therefore I also love Mamma Mia! the Musical, the films and Mamma Mia! the Party.

When I heard there was going to be a show called “I have a Dream” to search for the new Sophie and Sky in the West End production of the Musical, you won’t be surprised to learn that I was really excited by the prospect.

There have been two episodes so far, on ITV 1 on Sunday evenings but I’ve been a little underwhelmed by what I’ve seen. I’m a huge fan of Samantha Barks, a West End Superstar in every sense of the word and I have no problem with the other three judges. Yes, it’s that same old format. Each “contestant” tells their personal backstory and then the judges tell us what they think of their “journey’s” and performances.

I’m fascinated by everything Musical Theatre, including the audition process. It’s something I’ve never experienced, but it must be quite daunting. I’ve only ever done one audition and that was for a job as a tour guide at Manchester City. I had to do a talk/performance in front of a dozen other people who also wanted the job. I was successful, though I ultimately decided it wasn’t for me, for now at least.

The nearest us “mere mortals’ come to experiencing what it’s like in an audition is when we have a job interview and I’ve only had two of those in my life. There’s an element of performance in every job interview, but it must still be very different to a theatrical audition.

My son has told me about his experiences about auditioning and from what I’ve heard, the deciding factor is often the look of a performer and whether they’re visually right for the role. I think it’s often a given, that by the time the auditioning process has been whittled down to a short list, there’s not much difference in talent of those in the process. It then comes down to the look. These days, discussing the look of someone is frowned upon. No-one wants to cause offence, so it’s never openly discussed.

On “I Have a Dream” there are the celebrity judges, as there always is on current UK talent shows, but there are also three key creatives mentoring the auditionees.

Judy Craymer was the creator of Mamma Mia!, which celebrates twenty five years in the West End next year, Anthony Van Laast is the choreographer of the franchise. Those two, along with musical director Martin Lowe, coach and throw in the odd comment or two, but it’s Samantha Barks, Alan Carr, Amber Riley and Jessie Ware who’re the official judges. I can’t help thinking that Craymer, Van Laast and Lowe will have the final say on who gets to play Sophie and Sky in the West End production, after all it’s their show and they can’t afford to take risks.

My guess is that by the end of the early stages, filmed on the island of Corfu, to be decided by the public in a live final from the heart of the West End, the fourteen contestants will have been whittled down to those the producers think are right for the roles. I’d love to hear the discussions, behind the scenes, rather than the extremely positive comments that dominate the TV reality shows we consume every week. That said, I’m enjoying the show, which is sprinkled with Abba’s melodic masterpieces, may the best two win.

Please join me for some tunes from Mamma Mia! on my radio show Break-a-Leg this week from 7pm on Tameside Radio 103.6FM, when my guests are Pete Waterman & Debbie Issit, who’s show I Should Be So Lucky had it’s World premiere at the Manchester Opera House this week, the manager of the new Broadway Diner at the Trafford Centre and part two of my interview with Broadway songwriting legend Marc Shaiman. Hope you’ll join me then, Break-a-Leg!


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