TEARS flowed as Abi Finley’s dream of playing Maria in The Sound of Music was shattered in dramatic fashion last night.
But the Prestwich student – who celebrates her 24th birthday today – has been tipped for stardom by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Amid claims of stage management and jammed phone lines, it was so long, farewell for Abi when she lost in a sing off with her best friend Aoife Mullholland.
The semi final of BBC1’s How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? did throw up a surprise, with Helena Blackman making it through to next Saturday’s final, alongside favourites Siobhan Dillon and Connie Fisher.
Irish hope Aoife departed after a second sing off, this time against Siobhan, when there was little doubt which girl theatrical peer Andrew would save and put through to the final.
As feared last week, Abi lost out when she found herself in the bottom two during the first public vote. Worse still, she had to sing Any Dream Will Do in direct competition with her pal Aoife.
Perhaps I’m biased, but I still think Abi should have been in the final. Her mum summed it up when she said: “She is just how Andrew described the person he wanted to play Maria. A bit of a Tomboy, loveable, funny, quirky. ‘Climb a tree, scrape a knee,’ you can see Abi doing that. I think only Abi is the true Maria.”
Host Graham Norton told Andrew: “Abi’s mum, it seems to me, is right, because on the face of it, Abi does seem to be the Maria that you’ve described.”
But the lord of the theatre remained unconvinced: “There’s absolutely no doubt that she has great wit and she’s got phenomenal comic timing, which we’ve seen. But has she actually got the vocal security to be able to do it?”
After Abi had sung Maybe This Time from the musical Cabaret, it became clear that her chances were slim, unless the public vote kept her out of the bottom two places.
Instead of judging her on what was a superb performance on the night, the judges chose to talk about past weeks, which seemed a little unfair.
John Barrowman: “For me, it’s about consistency and over the last couple of weeks you’ve been inconsistent. I am worried that that inconsistency will be your downfall.”
Zoe Tyler: “I think you’ve got a great career in musical theatre. Do I think you’re Maria? No.”
David Ian said he would not be relaxed if Abi ended up in the final three. “Inconsistency is our enemy in musical theatre.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber: “Well, this is the problem. You’ve got to be a cast iron singer to be able to do the role of Maria. What is completely without any question is the wit and the humour that you have – you have great charm and there is definitely a role for you. If I were casting Funny Girl or something like that…”
Abi then interrupted and, to cheers, said: “I think you should.”
Andrew continued: “I’m not sure about Maria. I really am not. But I do think you will have a major career in musical theatre. You really did well tonight. I’m just not sure that Maria is actually the role. But there is definitely a part for you and it’s out there.”
Then, turning to co-producer David Ian, he smiled: “Funny Girl? I think it’s rather a good idea. Shall we do it? Get the rights?”
Later saving Aoife (right) over Abi, Andrew said he was “thinking about the casting and what we have to do for the show”.
Aoife had a tear in her eye during Abi’s final number – So Long, Farewell – and later said: “I just feel so responsible for her leaving. It’s like an end of a journey for us, because we started in Manchester auditioning together. It’s great we’ve got down to the last five. We couldn’t have asked for more than that.”
And a tearful Abi said backstage: “Andrew, to save Aoife, that was the right decision because she is outstanding. She is as talented as she is beautiful. She is perfect for this role and it was the right decision.”
Sadly, her friend from the Central School of Speech and Drama was just minutes away from leaving the show herself in the second sing off.
Fans reported jammed phone lines when they tried to vote for Abi last night but a BBC spokeswoman told me this morning: “I’m not aware of that happening. It’s a popular show and I’m sure a lot of people were trying to vote for their favourites.”
Likeable Abi remained dignified in defeat. Perhaps the expert judges were correct and Maria wasn’t the right role for her. We’ll probably never know.
But what is certain is that her “adieu to you and you and you” is only temporary.
It was appropriate that Abi’s sing off song was Any Dream Will Do from Andrew’s musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
This dream has gone. But there will be another.
2:40pm Sunday update: I had a long chat to birthday girl Abi this lunchtime. We spoke about last night’s show, what happened afterwards, her celebrations today and her hopes for the future. There will be a full story in tomorrow’s MEN and more in this blog in due course.