Is a new reality TV show right for Jesus Christs success?

The Lord has done it again. He has spread the word to the British public on how they can become the next big musical star.

The Lord has done it again. He has spread the word to the British public on how they can become the next big musical star. Cue a summer of car crash television as auditions for ‘Superstar’ begin next month. It promises to find the next Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot for an 02 production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It is not the first foray Andrew Lloyd Webber has made into reality television. Previous shows included searches for Maria Von Trapp, Nancy, Joseph and Dorothy Gale. This time he wants to find Jesus and Judas. Love him or hate him, you have to admire Lloyd Webber’s nerve, even audacity, for trying to find the next Jesus Christ on national television. The question is if he’s gone too far this time.

Andrew Lloyd Webber has said ‘it is the public who lead the casting process and they’ve got it absolutely right four times already. It’s been wonderful to see the careers of so many of the contestants blossom, so it will be especially fascinating to see who the public chooses as their Superstar.’  He has said he wants to find a star reminiscent of Freddie Mercury, one of the most talented performers of all time.  But is using a TV show really the best way of finding the biggest talent?  Recent programmes have seen audiences voting for the contestant with the raw talent but not the experience. Viewers love a good story or – to use that horrible cliché- a ‘journey.’ In I’d Do Anything, audiences watched as Jodie Prenger,  the previously overweight entertainer from Blackpool, overcome talented Jessie Buckley to be the ‘nation’s Nancy.’  

But sometimes the story is not enough.  Last year’s winner Danielle Hope, has undoubtedly talent and maturity which belies her years.  But some reviews described her opening performance in The Wizard of Oz as lacking sparkle and merely ‘competent.’ If critical and audience opinion of The Wizard of Oz is anything to go by, finding a Jesus who is just ‘competent’ will not wash.

There may be underlying reasons for wanting to set Jesus Christ Superstar in the 02 Arena.  There has been talk in recent press of Lloyd Webber’s fears that the forthcoming Olympics will be a ‘bloodbath’ for London theatre.   So far, it has been announced that the new production of Sweeney Todd will take a break, but The Wizard of Oz may be next to face the musical theatre guillotine.  It seems that not even a click of Dorothy’s shoes may be enough to save the show which has failed to capture the hearts of theatre-goers.  Lloyd Webber wants to make Jesus Christ Superstar different.  He thinks the setting of the 02 Arena will suit the ‘rocky’ production and pull in audiences.  But this setting has already come under criticism from Tim Rice, so will it really make the show?

Another problem is that using a television reality show to find Jesus may have already caused controversy.  There are already fears that Jesus Christ Superstar, a show which makes entertainment out of the Passion may offend religious groups.  The BBC did not want to air a talent show casting the main stars.  ‘Superstar’ has already caused a rift between Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.  He holds a traditional belief of finding the next big star away from the shine of the TV studio.  In a Daily Mail article, Rice was quoted, ‘Andrew wants to rehash things all the time, but I really don’t think Superstar needs that tasteless reality television treatment. Those shows are relentlessly downmarket, which is fine if the show is a lightweight bit of fluff.’  Indeed, while Joseph and The Wizard of Oz were fun, Jesus Christ Superstar has some of the most powerful and emotional scenes out of all of Lloyd Webber’s productions.  It needs to be done justice and using a talent show like Over The Rainbow to cast it might well cheapen it.

Lloyd Webber has tried to dispel controversy that he used the BBC as a platform to advertise his previous productions.  His new show will be broadcast by ITV, a station which has not had the most successful history of staging productions.  When Grease is the Word came out on ITV, it failed to gain audience approval, even with mogul Simon Cowell as its creator.  Perhaps Lloyd Webber thinks his show will gain more popularity if Nicole Scherzinger is on the judging panel, but given the lukewarm reception to X Factor USA, maybe not.  The fact is that the BBC has recently had the upper hand when it comes to producing talent programmes.  Has Lloyd Webber made a mistake even before he’s begun?

Call me cynical and a TV talent show ‘scrooge.’  Perhaps I am dooming Lloyd Webber’s next talent search before it has even begun.  It may well turn out to be a huge success for both the show and its stars.  But at the moment, it seems self- congratulatory with Lloyd Webber boasting of the success of his previous shows.  He seems to have forgotten about some of the victims like previous winner Connie Fisher, who had to cut her West End run of The Sound of Music short after damaging her vocal chords. It just seems that the West End is being swamped by reality TV winners being given a short cut to a West End career. And often, it is only a short journey before the road to obscurity begins.  I’m with Tim Rice – perhaps its time to go back to the good old days of auditioning shows without the public eye.