HOW Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? Well, with just two weeks to go, you change the format to reduce the risk of the public picking the wrong girl.
Five potential Marias remain after two hopefuls – Simona and Leanne – were predictably sent home by Andrew Lloyd Webber in last night’s BBC1 show.
But in a move designed to avoid a possible theatrical disaster, just three girls will compete in the final a week on Saturday – not four as originally planned.
That will deprive the public of the chance to vote for one of their favourites in the final when, crucially, the decision on who wins will be theirs alone.
Host Graham Norton revealed the change at the end of Saturday’s second results show, even though official BBC press information still talks about four potential Marias in the final.
“Who will win the heart of the nation and truly be the next Maria von Trapp? Only the viewers can decide and only one singer can win,” it states. “Even Andrew, the Lord of the Theatre, has no saving vote and no say.”
Depending on the public vote in the semi-final next Saturday, Lord Webber may now be able to ensure the three girls he favours compete among themselves in the final.
And that could possibly mean so long, farewell to Prestwich star Abi Finley (above), who I believe deserves her chance in the final and could well be the girl to play Maria in The Sound of Music at the London Palladium from November.
Helena – saved twice on Saturday by Andrew (right) – is hot favourite to be the first girl out next week, when we will say goodbye to another two Marias.
Abi may then be in danger if she finds herself in the bottom two against her friend Aoife, judges’ current favourite Siobhan or Connie, the more experienced stage performer who would have got the role weeks ago if this had been a normal West End audition.
Latest odds on winning at the time of writing this have Siobhan as the new 11/8 favourite, but only fractionally ahead of long time leader Connie at 6/4. Aofie is third favourite at 4/1 with Abi at 9/1 and Helena a distant 50-1.
So the public vote will be vital, as will Abi’s performance this week.
Andrew’s worst nightmare – and that of co-producer David Ian – would be having Connie and rising star Siobhan ending up together in either of the bottom two votes in the semi final next Saturday, with Lloyd Webber only able to save one.
Last week Abi blew the judges away with her rendition of Big Spender. Andrew told her: “What a performance. What a change. You came up so much – leading lady, rogue card Maria for me. A fabulous performance. Bravo! Congratulations.”
Even Graham Norton was moved to describe it as a “breathtaking performance”.
But on Saturday – according to the judges – it all went wrong for Abi, who had said: “I’m still flying high from last week.”
Her performance of Summertime produced these comments:
Vocal coach Zoe Tyler: (left) “Abi, flat, sharp, all over the place. You’re a strong actress. I wish your singing was as strong as your acting and I think it’s the end of the road.”
Co-producer David Ian: “I think this week you went from your best week ever last week to your worst week ever this week. I thought that was terrible tonight. I thought you sang all over the place and I thought it was a bad performance. You’ve done so much better than that before.”
Stage and TV star John Barrowman: “Abi, last week you took this challenge. Last week you were a leading lady performance. This week, for me, you slipped back into the chorus. It just didn’t do it for me.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber: “I’m going to take the blame a little bit because I chose Summertime for Abi and I didn’t think she did it particularly well tonight. But I did want to find out whether or not she could do something in that kind of register. You did your very best with it but it didn’t quite happen for you, and I’ve got to be honest. Abi, you did it as well as I think you possibly could have done. In a way I wish I hadn’t chosen that song for you, but in a way I’m glad I did because we’ve got to sort it out.”
It may not have been a good night for Abi but the TV camera still loves her, as would a theatre audience. She’s a natural performer with a real spark of wit, as well as being the Tomboy Maria that Lloyd Webber says he is looking for.
He wants to cast a modern nun for a modern stage version of The Sound of Music, not another reflection of a much loved film now over 40 years old, which itself was based on the original Broadway stage production.
Responding to those comments, Abi was cheered by the audience when she said: “Well, I was kind of happy with it. I was. I felt it and I was in the moment. And if I was ‘flat, sharp, high, low’, then that’s pretty talented because that’s multi-tasking! Every time they give me a bad comment, it only makes me want to work even harder and get the better comments like I did last week. And that’s the truth.”
Can “rogue card Maria” survive and make it through to the final? Speaking backstage between Saturday’s two shows, Abi reflected: “I can’t always worry about what the panel think. So I’m hoping that the public will like that and keep me in.”
The message is simple – if you want to see the girl from Prestwich in the final, then: Vote Abi.
* Simona said after Saturday’s show: “I sang with all my heart. It was my turn to go tonight and whoever voted for me, I’d like to thank them. To be in a foreign country and to have that support was amazing.” She also confirmed her intention to take up Andrew’s offer to audition for Evita.
* Leanne waved goodbye as soon as she learned she was in the bottom two in the second show. “I knew this was coming. When the standard is this high – I expected it. If my age was an issue they shouldn’t have put me here. But I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s been amazing. And anyway, I’m glad I’m out because next week it’s all about dancing!”
* David Ian (right) has moved to clear up confusion about the hiring of actress Emma Williams to play an “alternate” Maria in the West End show. He says the former star of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang will fill the role for just two matinee performances a week, leaving the publicly chosen Maria to take on the main six evening shows for at least the first six months – and possibly two years. But cynics still believe Emma could be brought in should the TV Maria have problems during the run.
You can read more about The Sound of Music and the BBC 1 show at:
The Hills Are Alive
The Abi Habit?
The Hills Are Still Alive For Abi