ARTICLE – Has Musical Theatre Got The X Factor?

Today on Twitter, I found myself caught in the middle of a storm resulting from X Factor contestants using musical theatre as a back up plan. When Sammi Brookes was voted off she expressed her wish to go into Blood Brothers, and this morning Amanda Holden posted the following message after last night’s elimination of Johnny Robinson.

This sparked a Twitter debate, with many of the West End’s best stepping up to voice their opinion. Should musical theatre be a “back up plan” for those booted out of shows like the X Factor? Is it ok that producers and audiences expect to see their favourite X Factor rejects on the West End stage? Or is it demeaning to those who train hard for years in order to lose out to lead roles to someone from ‘reality’ TV? Here’s a selection of what the West End had to say…

(Click to make picture bigger)and Chloe Hart had this to say…

Let’s start with the good. We have a number of former X Factor people amongst our West End talent, who have no problem knocking out eight shows a week and hold their own in whatever the challenge is. Cassie Compton, for example, has played Eponine in Les Mis as well as being a lead singer in Dirty Dancing and more recently Nessarose in Wicked. She also teaches West End workshops. Someone like Cassie Compton came to attention on the X Factor, but had been working long before that and has bags of talent to boot.

On the negative, producers recently announced that X Factor contestant Mary Byrne will be appearing as Teen Angel (yes – Teen Angel!) in the tour of Grease at its Dublin stop. Now, in what world is it ok to turn a well known MALE part into a female part so that you can have someone who will put those elusive bums on seats? Especially when you consider how many out of work, trained actors there are who would do that role in a second?

What I’m not saying is that people should not be given a chance, but at the end end of the day, when you audition for a show like the X Factor, surely the aim is to become a pop star? Particularly in the case of Sammi Brookes, who very publicly declared that she wants to be in Blood Brothers. If you want to be in Blood Brothers, why not go and audition for Blood Brothers? Why declare it on National Television so that the whole world thinks that it is your second choice? Why even audition for X Factor if all you want to do is be in Blood Brothers? See my point?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not going into training vs not training here, as we have many excellent performers within the West End who never formally trained. But most of them take private lessons and work extremely hard to be able to do eight shows a week. When an X Factor contestant passes musical theatre off as a second choice, it demeans the work that every performer in the West End does. Whether that is working eight shows or more a week in a West End show or auditioning to find the right role when roles are being sapped up by those who get it because of who they are.

People asked this morning whether shows like Over The Rainbow, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do are the same in terms of churning out people who walk into West End roles, but – as much as I dislike reality television – at least musical theatre is not a second option to those on these shows. They are auditioning to be in a musical, therefore if they do not win but still end up in a musical it is not too far from what they aimed for. Also, on these shows they are more likely to have a little more experience – maybe not formal training as such but even Am Dram experience or National Youth Musical Theatre training can prove very useful.

I just think these things should be judged on talent alone. If someone from a reality TV show goes along to an audition with trained performers, none trained performers and some randomers and gets the role because they are most suited for it, then good for them! There is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t because, as I already discussed, a number of our West End’s best have dallied with X Factor or such reality TV shows at some point in their career. It just seems producers see the $$ instead of the talent sometimes.

Casting people from X Factor or such show always causes controversy in theatreland. For example, when Rachel Tucker was first cast as Meat in We Will Rock You, pretty much off the back of I’d Do Anything, many people very very quick to voice their disdain. If they would have just given her a chance they would have seen that she was as good a Meat as any of her predecessors. Shayne Ward is most recognizable from the X Factor, but yet he is doing a fantastic job as Staycee Jaxx in Rock of Ages and holds his own against an extremely talented West End cast.  It’s great when a “reality TV” person holds their own in a role and is genuinely fantastic and every bit as good as those around them, but how annoying is it when they don’t?

So, give me your thoughts. Do you agree with an X Factor contestant voicing their wish to “do musicals instead” on National Television after being voted off the X Factor? Do you think producers should think about those who have worked hard for the role before they cast those who just came out of X Factor?

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10 thoughts on “ARTICLE – Has Musical Theatre Got The X Factor?

  1. I did tweet Cassie Compton about this today. And my point was very much as yours. Musical theatre is full of very talented performers. To me they were saying “You’re not talented enough to be a pop star but you have enough talent to be in musical theatre” and that is just so insulting to the immense amount of talent in the west end and regions. Musical theatre needs stamina and a talented voice – no pre-records or auto tune here. Musical theatre should never ever be seen as 2nd choice. To me, they may not have the talent to be a musical theatre performer but they may scrape by in the pop industry.

  2. Hey Wendy. I personally don’t feel that X Factor contestants should automatically get a part in a west end show because they have appeared on the show. If they work hard at getting auditions themselves and do a good job then why not. There has been many a successful X Factor or pop idol loser get a west end role and to be honest if they got the part their cast mates would welcome them with open arms. Am I wrong??

  3. Whilst I completely agree with you; I too am sick of seeing failed popstars/reality stars in musicals, especially when I have so many unbelievably talented friends who are more than deserving of these roles.

    Surely it’s the audiences that have created this disaster. At the end of the day the general public are fascinated by celebrity. Someone recently told me how excited they were by meeting (cant remember the name) from a series of Apprentice? People who don’t have access to our `showbiz` lifestyle are obsessed with celebrity spotting and fixated by `people of the tele`. Surely it’s the audience’s that inevitably decide what sells and sales indicate that the public audience want to see a `star` or `celebrity` on the stage. Frustrating I know. But they’d probably rather see a celebrity do a shoddy job than someone exceptionally talented. A friend of mine was first cover for an Xfactor alumni and her MT ability is far more advanced than the pop singers’. So can’t blame the produces for making an executive business decision.

    Surely, (again frustrating) we just need these shows to sell. People aren’t visiting the West-end as much and shows aren’t running for as long. So whatever it is that the people want, lets do it… because you’re then giving an entire cast and crew a succesful happy run.

    No it’s not fair that the west-end is seen as a back-up plan for failed popstars but we don’t get to make the rules in this industry we just have to play by them?

    (for fun count how many times i wrote “surely”

  4. I don’t think you can compare someone who’s competing in a TV show to win a particular stage role to a contestant in X Factor.
    For example Rachel Tucker was already an accomplished professional Musical Theatre performer before she went into Rent, all be it via a TV show.
    ” I’d do Anything ” was a competition to win the role of Nancy in a the Musical, “Oliver”.
    Who better to go in for the competition than a Professional performer trying to further her career?
    That’s a No Brainer to me!
    Anyone who’d seen her performing in “Wicked” would see just how talented a performer she is.
    Like so many other professional performers trying to get a break, she took a chance and entered a National TV competition to raise her profile and showcase her talents and it paid off – she may not have won the role of Nancy, but she’s now playing one of the most coveted roles in The West End.
    I say, Good for her!

    • Completely agree. In the post I said that Rachel is an example of when “stunt” casting from a reality show goes right…

      “For example, when Rachel Tucker was first cast as Meat in We Will Rock You, pretty much off the back of I’d Do Anything, many people very very quick to voice their disdain. If they would have just given her a chance they would have seen that she was as good a Meat as any of her predecessors. “

  5. Sometimes I think people just say “you could do musical theatre” in a clumsy attempt to be kind (to the individual), and sometimes there are singers who enter a show like X Factor who probably would be better suited to theatre (with training). In their mind, they probably do think that it’s a compliment to the singer, ackowledging that musical theatre is a career to aspire to. However, it is too often used as short-hand for second best by people who are ignorant of the skills and discipline required. It’s annoying to me as a fan, never mind to the people who work so hard within the industry and I’m glad people are protesting.

    I’m also glad you have acknowledged that there are some excellent West End performers that didn’t come the traditional route, including some from “off the telly”, because there are! In some ways, it’s even more of an insult to them to have idiots like Olly Murs assume that it’s an easy option to move into the West End. Even with the trend for celebrity casting, most will never be considered for any proper part, and at least it gives the soap stars a bit of competition.

    Cassie is a great example of someone who deserves her roles, and Gareth Gates was a great Marius, although I’m not sure he counts, as in his case, he’d had many years of professional performing experience under his belt since Pop Idol, and solid classical training in his teens. On the other hand, Lucie Jones was incredibly underwhelming as Cosette and seemed to be off a lot too. More sensible casting is someone like Shayne Ward in a part that doesn’t require a classic MT singing style, although I’ve not seen him myself.

    Mary Byrne in Grease is hard to justify, but Teen Angel seems to be a part they love to stunt-cast, and it can’t be much worse than having a professional skater, albeit a former Olympic champion, Robin Cousins in the part. I think she’s only doing it in her home-town, and probably will get a lot of bums on seats. That kind of short-term casting bothers me much less than the insidious presumption that the world of theatre should be grateful for any 8th placed X Factor contestant to take an interest in their profession.

  6. Pingback: West End Shows » ARTICLE – Has Musical Theatre Got The X Factor? | West End Wendy

  7. Hi Wendy 🙂 my daughter called my attention to this post. She is 15, studying Performing Arts privately and we are (with a HUGE effort) trying to get her on A levels musical theatre. I am Brazilian,was a performer for 33 of my 53 years of life, in times where there was no such thing as musical theatre school for us…you had to pay your drama classes, your singing classes & your dance ones….and still, of course, even if you had bags of talent, you may not succeed….

    I have to say, when the “reality” show for casting Maria in Sound of Music started…I was in rage.That rage was soothed by the fact that, Connie (don’t remember her name- and, btw- where is she now?) had been to some kind of musical theatre training….but still…to me is a way to get away to pay less for the job, and is upsetting for those who work so hard to arrive where they are…..
    I agree on Lindsay’s point on so many properly trained actors/resses out of work, and also agree on the Cassie or Rachel Tucker’s thing…Rachel especially as I was with my jaw on the floor of the front row Wicked when my daughter dragged me to see her& louise Dearman, as I have always been an Idina/Cheno fanatic…. Rachel Tucker does an impressive Elphie. I don’t doubt there are many cases like hers, like you mentioned Cassie for example, but enrages me the thought of Sami Brookes being given a role in Blood Brothers (or any other musical) so yes, lets pass the message to all X Factor makers… (as I don’t really think Gary Barlow has much input on what goes on really…): musical theatre is NOT an easy way out.
    I would say furthermore……is a LOT easier for someone to make it as a pop singer than as a musical theatre performer, so, yes, please, lets make it clear that we, those who pay money to go see these musicals, do NOT want to see failed X Factor (or any other reality TV program) in musicals.
    I’m glad my daughter found you & pointed your blog to my attention….will subscribe and come back as much as possible… 🙂

  8. A few months ago I was fortunate to attend a workshop performance of a show at the PET. I was speaking to one of the leads in the theatre bar afterwards and expressed how much I’d like to see this show proceed to the West End with him in that role. This actor/singer/dancer is not a household name, although he has recently completed a successful long run in the West End and he is one of the most all-round talented people I’ve ever seen in MT.
    I was saddened at his response to my suggestion, when he said that his role would probably be given to Gareth Gates or someone.
    If our talented MT performers, who have come up the hard way, feel this way it is a very sad indictment of the way theatre is developing today.
    I prefer to watch true talent over “celebrity” any day and I welcome the opportunity to see understudies in West End roles and to visit the smaller off-WE theatres. This is real theatre, rather than manufactured to satisfy the TV fans.

  9. I think what judges often mean when they say “you’d be good for musical theatre” or “you’re too musical theatre” (in auditions, a notch above “you’re too holiday camp”) is essentially saying, “you’re a bit over the top”/”you’re a bit fat”/”you’ve got a lovely personality”/”you’re too camp”/”you come across as potentially gay”/”you’ve made it clear you are a fat, gay person who is over the top with a lovely camp personality” under some misguided notion that a) pop stars have to be slim, sexy and conform to a model of what modern record labels want and b) people who have over-the-top theatrical personalities or performance styles are naturally suited to musical theatre.

    On point a) it is perhaps not that misguided – the X Factor product is very narrow in terms of successful output despite its commercial success, so it is any wonder that Syco et al. would say “you don’t meet our criteria but you might meet the criteria of those who are less stringent on criteria”. And indeed, one might argue that people who are actually capable of emoting a song, rather vacuously riffing their way through it like Mariah Carey, probably ARE better suited to musical theatre. However, for me, that’s a bit like saying to say to an wanna-be electrician, “so you couldn’t wire a plug, how about you try wiring a house?”

    On point b) – this is just a stupid outdated notion that you must be “theatrical” to be a good (musical theatre) actor. Utter rubbish. Anyone who knows decent actors who work in musical theatre that, while they may have flamboyant moments in person, they make the distinction between having fun in person and hamming it up and meaningfully representing a character on stage. Certainly SOME musical theatre roles lend themselves to this hammy, over-blown, over-acting, tits and teeth approach to performance – in which case, one might say, “good luck to those producers”. Having once spoken with the production manager of Chicago in the West End he was keen to convey that Chicago was very much about “image” (which he extended and clarified as being celebrity casting later).

    I don’t think that the prospect that musical theatre performers have to deliver consistently over 8 performances a week and need to draw upon years of training (formal or otherwise) even enters their heads – these are comments made by people who don’t know and don’t understand theatre – people whose idea of theatre is predominantly based on celebrity-cast pantomimes. The REALLY worrying thing is that given that X Factor ends in the run up to the panto season AND people flock to see X Factor rejects in those kinds of productions, this is actually well informed, lucrative advice!

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