The Playgoer: Casting by Reality Show

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Casting by Reality Show

In case you wondered just how much Andrew Lloyd Webber's fingerpints are all over the newly announced NBC show "You're the One We Want" the answer is...everywhere. So much so that Lord Lloyd Webber is taking legal action for not getting credit, having started and hosted the current BBC hit "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria."

To catch you up, the idea of "Maria" was to hold open auditions for the starring role in Lord Lloyd Webber's latest venture--a West End "Sound of Music" revival--in the form of an American Idol (or to give credit to the Brit original, Pop Idol) freakshow. Now NBC will do a similar show to cast the two leads for the upcoming Broadway revival of Grease.

According to Michael Riedel's sleuthing on this today, Lloyd Webber is claiming one of his associates went to NBC behind his back, even though they agreed to approach NBC together. Also, he claims it was he--Lloyd Webber--who suggested that the American spinoff specifically cast for a production of "Grease."

So, if true, isn't there something interesting about that? It seems to imply there was no projected Kathleen Marshall-directed Broadway revival of "Grease" before the show was hatched. Is this a production that exists only to set up the premise of an NBC reality show???

Of course, being a TV show contest, it will be the viewers, not the director, who choose the winners--thereby controlling that process we in the theatre biz call "casting." You know, that thing that 90% of a show is proverbially supposed to depend on? How does Kathleen Marshall, feel about the fact that, as NBC announces, "America will ultimately get to choose the two leads," and not her?

Another interesting question is that posed by Mr. Excitement about the union implications of all these, in effect, highly publicized open calls. Just how do AEA and AFTRA feel about this?

I know, it's just "Grease." And it's just Broadway, where nothing should surprise us anymore. But it's notable how many concessions are being made here, to accomodate what must be a huge expectation of profit. As well as, I'm sure, a sincere hope that such a high-profile stunt will bring theatre--musical theatre, that is--back into the pop culture mainstream.

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