Monday, May 18, 2009

Dreams and Dreamcoats

Curse you, Andrew Lloyd Webber and BBC America, for getting me absolutely hooked on a two-year-old British reality TV show — the outcome of which I already know — to cast a West End musical that I can't even see. I'm talking about Any Dream Will Do, the series that plopped 12 wannabe musical theater performers in front of a British TV audience and asked viewers to vote on which one they wanted to see play the lead in A West End revival of the Lloyd Webber–Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

After a rather chaotic first episode, which took viewers through the audition process and involved a lot more crying than singing, I've become swept up in the contestants' stories and struggles as they perform a song each week to impress a panel of judges that includes a surprisingly bitchy John Barrowman and producer Bill Kenwright, even though episodes are a whopping 90 minutes.

I'm not sure why I like this series so much more than Grease: You're the One That I Want, the American reality show that cast the leads for a Broadway revival of the popular musical that nearly every high school (mine included) does at some point. Perhaps the it's delicious ceremonial stripping of the colored coat from the contestant who's eliminated each week as he sings "Close Every Door," one of the show's ballads. Maybe it's the chance to see Andrew Lloyd Webber as a smart, caring man of the theater, not the caricature he's usually depicted as. Or it could just be that the wannabe Josephs are just more appealing than the Grease contestants, if not more talented.

It's probably also because it's the Lloyd Webber musical I'm most fond of, having seen the original Broadway production in 1982 or '83, when Allen Fawcett, who played Kelly McGrath on my favorite soap opera, The Edge of Night, was playing Joseph.

The show stuck with me. I sang along to the cast album, memorized the lyrics and longed to have a voice like Laurie Beechman so that I could one day play the Narrator (and soon learned that, despite the musical's message, it doesn't always pay to be a dreamer). I used a lyric from the show in my high school yearbook, and still love the song "Any Dream Will Do," though as an adult I've come to realize that the lyrics makes absolutely no sense. And I know some of my more puritanical musical theater friends must cringe when they hear some of the songs' false rhymes. ("All these things you saw in your pajamas,/ are a long-range forecast for your farmers" is one.)

But I will be tuning in for the final two installments, because beyond having the pleasure of watching young hopefuls aspire to musical theater stardom (something that is worth celebrating in and of itself), I'm enjoying being reminded of the sheer joy I felt when I first fell in love with musical theater.

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