Maria: The Final Word

ABI Finley has no regrets: “I’m the luckiest nearly-Jewish nun in the world.”
I spoke to Abi after writing yesterday’s blog on her dramatic exit from How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
She was astonished that Andrew Lloyd Webber had suddenly mentioned Funny Girl on the live BBC1 show. Abi’s idol Barbara Streisand starred in both the original Broadway stage version and the subsequent film.
Celebrating her 24th birthday yesterday, Abi also revealed what the Lord of the theatre said to her after Saturday night’s programme and how she and best friend Aoife Mullholland will be back in this week’s grand final. All 10 Maria finalists will return to sing a special number.

There’s a news story running in today’s MEN. The online version is here.
But for devoted Maria – and Abi – fans, here is a fuller extract of our chat, starting with the level-headed Prestwich student’s reaction to losing in the sing off with Aoife when they finished in the bottom two after the first public vote.
“I was just so happy that Aoife had been saved. It helped me out in a way. It was fine. It was the right decision,” said an upbeat Abi.
Did the two friends think it was almost inevitable that at some stage they would end up in a sing off together? “We always thought that it would be a good piece of telly, if we did. But I don’t know if we really believed it would ever actually happen.
“It was always a possibility and we’d spoken about it. To be honest, for me, that was the best thing that could have happened if we were in a sing off, for her to be saved.
“We’d had a little chat, actually, before the show, just saying, ‘If we are in a sing off together, then we’ve just got to give it all, don’t be worried about the other one. Just sing from the heart.’
“And I said to her, ‘All that we’ll need is one little look between the two of us that says – come on, nail this, sing your heart out, it’s all OK.’ And I think we did it. If you watch the show back, we had this little look before we start singing, and it was a look to say, ‘No worries, it’s all good.’”
Was Abi upset when Aoife subsequently departed in a second sing off with Siobhan? “I was. I am slightly biased. I don’t know if it was the right decision. It was just very odd because they had gone on about how wonderful Aoife’s acting was and all this sort of stuff, and then it didn’t come through in the end.
“It was bizarre. Feelings-wise, I didn’t know what to do. What a crazy, crazy night. Not only have I been knocked out but then my mate’s been knocked out.
“Aoife and I didn’t want to go through any of it without the other one. There aren’t many friends that can share such an experience in their lives. We really wanted to go all the way, but otherwise this was the best thing to happen.

“We don’t have to go on without the other and we got out at a good stage and we’re back next week to do a performance. So we’ve been in every show.
“My mum and dad came backstage to see me straight after the first show on Saturday night. Once they saw that I was OK, they were OK. They were as supportive as ever, saying how good I was. We all tried to be very positive.”
And after the second show, when Lord Webber saved Siobhan over Aoife? “We went to the BBC bar and had far too much to drink. Then we have to go back to the Maria house on the Saturday night. It’s BBC policy.
“So we went back to the house and cracked open a bottle of champagne and we celebrated a most wonderful experience and everything that we’d had since May and how lucky we were and what a privilege it had all been. And that was wonderful as well, being with somebody that knew exactly what you were going through. We even got to share that bit.
“Both Aoife and I are thinking about it in a very positive way. This is only the beginning of things and what a wonderful springboard to launch things off. We’re looking to the future and just very thankful for everything that we had.”
As reported in yesterday’s blog, Abi was quick off the mark when Lord Webber talked about possibly casting her in a show like Funny Girl.
“Whenever I get asked what would your dream part be to play in the West End, it’s always Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. That is the ultimate goal. So when he said that, I was like, ‘What?’ Wow, can you imagine?
“And he spoke to me again about it after the show. He said that he was looking into who was doing it at the moment, if it was on anywhere, who had the rights and that maybe we could do it, starting it in Sheffield and see what happens. So it could be all good. I don’t know. I’m not holding my breath.”
“John Barrowman also came up to me and said, ‘Hey, don’t worry. He’s already talked about Funny Girl. So you never know.”
I asked Abi about her thoughts yesterday on the morning after the night before. “I woke up in the Maria house and there was a full sense of calm. I don’t know whether that was the hangover. There was a peacefulness, ‘OK This was phenomenal, this was fantastic, let’s see what happens next.’
“The fact that it finished on my birthday, it’s almost like a sign, as if there’s a reason why it happened that way.
“We’ll just see what happens from here. I’ve loved every single minute. Even all the bad comments. How many people get the chance to experience what I had. I’m the luckiest nearly-Jewish nun in the world.”

Abi performed Maybe This Time from Cabaret in Saturday’s show. But the judges chose to focus on her past performances.
“We knew that they kind of wanted me and Aoife out. I’d said that this was my week to go. Not in a negative way but just understanding how the game was working, what they needed to do to get the person that they wanted.
“I was really happy with my performance. I was. And they didn’t really talk about Maybe This Time.
“If you look at how it works, Connie went first, then it was Siobhan, then it was Helena, then it was me and then it was Aoife. And a couple of minutes after Aoife finished singing, they went, ‘And the lines are closed.’ But there’s no point focusing on that.
“At the end of the day, Andrew Lloyd Webber has got to put a show on and he’s done it in a very entertaining and fun way. And that’s great. But he does have to produce something at the end and he’s got to go with a safe bet. And he does have to have that control over it. That was how it was set up from the very beginning, that he would be able to save people.”
Connie, Siobhan and Helena will contest the final on Saturday, with the winner getting a minimum six month contract to play Maria von Trapp in a new stage production of The Sound of Music which opens at the London Palladium in November.
Who does Abi want to win? “I think they are all fantastic in their own very special ways. I just hope they know that if Maria doesn’t happen that they’re all fantastically talented.
“Aoife and I shared a room with Helena, so we do have a bit of a bond with her. She is so phenomenally talented. Her voice is just effortless. And the way she’s handled all the stuff, being in the bottom two, it’s been amazing. She’s very special and she really deserves great things.”
Abi and Aoife met as students at the Central School of Speech and Drama and are now looking for work. But Abi has one last spot of homework to finish.
“We don’t have to be in rehearsal for the final until Friday, so I think I’ll finally get my dissertation done. It was due in at the beginning of September. I had better do that this week. I’ll hopefully end up with a nice MA in acting and musical theatre.”
No longer contracted to the BBC show, she is now open to professional offers. “Absolutely. Bring them on. I’m going to write to every single person that I’ve met throughout this show, all the casting directors, all the musicians, everybody. Hopefully something will come of it.”
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