AN angry Andrew Lloyd Webber went on live TV today to defend himself against accusations made over How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
Cynics have continued to snipe about the BBC1 show since Connie Fisher won the role of Maria von Trapp in a new stage production of The Sound of Music.
Rehearsals for the London Palladium musical, which opens in November, began at 10.30am today.
But first Lord Webber got in touch with BBC Breakfast and asked to go on the programme so he could set the record straight – and also revealed he was thinking of taking out a libel action.
That could involve a story which claimed Connie had been in the recording studio working on The Sound of Music cast album – before she had won the TV show.
“It’s absolute nonsense,” insisted the theatrical peer. “The BBC would have been down on me like a ton of bricks if I’d taken that girl into a recording studio.
“We didn’t know whether she was going to win. She started recording her own album this last Tuesday. It’s absolutely amazing what she’s done in the time and we start rehearsals today.”
He then turned to the reporting of a decision by the “alternate” Maria – Emma Williams – to “quit”. She had been signed up to do two matinee shows a week, leaving Connie the six evening performances.
“The truth with the Emma Williams situation is that Connie had such a massive public vote, that she said she wanted to do all of the shows.
“We said to Emma, ‘Look, she does want to do this.’ And Emma said, ‘Look, in the circumstances, I prefer not to do it.’ And it was perfectly amicable.”
He added: “We said at the very first press conference that what we would do would be the same as what I do with Evita or Phantom of the Opera, where you have a girl to do two shows a week.
“Because with a young voice, it’s not a great idea, really, to force them too much. But Connie really wants to do all eight shows.
He also denied that he went back on a contract with Emma, that the result had been fixed and a “plant” had been hired in the series.
“I don’t see how you could fix a show like the Maria programme. It’s completely a public vote. I didn’t even know until three minutes before the end of the show that Connie had won it.
“I now know that Connie won it by an absolutely staggering 1.4 million votes, out of about 2 million. And that was a higher number of votes than for the entire Strictly Come Dancing. So it could not be fixed.”
He also denied his public endorsement of Connie had swung votes. “Good television is not made by a one horse race. What we tried to do with Connie was to give her more and more difficult songs each week.
“She’s a soprano and I gave her Lulu’s Shout. I couldn’t have been more horrible if I tried – and she just pulled it off. She’s a fantastic star.”
Connie triumphed in the final over Helena, with Siobhan in third place. Prestwich student Abi Finley went out in the semi final but was told by Lloyd Webber that she’d be perfect for a revival of the musical Funny Girl.
“It’s been wonderful,” he told Breakfast. “This last Saturday, all three girls were in the studio to record for Connie’s album, because they’re all great mates. I’m very fond of all of them.
“Siobhan’s going to get a record contract, I’ve no question of doubt about that, Helena is already signed to do Gypsy Rose Lee in Cardiff, which is fantastic, I’m having a meeting today with Abi – they’re all great. We had a fantastic collection of very talented young people and it really was not a one horse race.
“I really thought on the final, I thought that Helena might well just do it. But I had no idea, of course, during the programme that it was so huge a vote.”
Did he ever think he’d have to go on TV to defend himself against all sorts of accusations?
“I didn’t think that I would be actually looking today at, obviously, a major libel case, which of course we have, because it was absolutely untrue that Connie was anywhere near a recording studio until three days after the show was over.
“We had no idea of who was necessarily going to win it. I know the voting was very, very different on some of the other programmes. But the final did go overwhelmingly her way.
“She’s absolutely fantastic. It’s the first day of rehearsals today. She made her album last week. She’s a real pro. She was doing the first video yesterday. So her head’s really down and focused and I can’t wait – at half past ten we start.”
Maria: The Final Word
BBC Maria site