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I’d Do Anything For You (6) – the final: Public 1 – Lord Rubber/Cameron MacIntosh 0

the nation's Nancy

the nation's Nancy

I’d Do Anything For You – The Nation’s Nancy

Legend has it that Elvis Presley, for a laugh, once entered an ‘Elvis look-alike contest’…………and came second! I guess if true, this perhaps tells us that people in general, the public, like and are drawn to, identify with, what there is in common between people and things. It is comforting. It feels safe. These two feelings are reinforced when you feel most people agree with you. The general public are seldom the first to recognise uniqueness. Only when a unique performer has suddenly become popular does the general public quickly line up behind them. It took a Sam Phillips to recognise the uniqueness of Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc and take a chance on them; a Berry Gordy to put Diana Ross in front of the Supremes etc.

The curious thing about IDAFY is that in terms of musical theatre the general public is used to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Macinstosh putting their selections of song, story and especially performers, on stage. History and the box office tells us that the public trust ALW and CM’s judgments by their willingness to pay good money to see their shows. The extraordinary success of these two in selling popular musicals almost re-makes the same point in that neither ALW’s music nor CM’s shows have much uniqueness or risk about them. Easy listening tunes, simple popular narratives demonstrate that the general public like the familiar, the safe and especially the sentimental. The popularity of the general, the commonplace, the safe and predictable both defines entertainment and marks its boundary with art, even popular art. For uniqueness is the essence of art.

It is perhaps understandable then not only that the popular vote chose Jodie as the ‘nation’s Nancy’ but that they were blind to the sheer passion, breathtakingly unique performances Jessie, finally after 12 weeks delivered in tonight’s head-to-head with Jodie. At last this easy to underestimate young woman found the self-belief, the absolute conviction of a star, to both be herself and to put all that confident emotion into her interpretation of the songs she sung. Jodie’s performances made one feel confident in her ability to be on stage what most of the public perceive to be the Nancy of Oliver – not is must be said the Nancy of Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Jodie makes us cry because of her own story, her own history. But her ‘Nancy’ won’t make us cry. Jessie’s would, every night.

Jessie would not have been my consistent choice over the weeks though she has once or twice put in outstanding performances as ALW famously remarked. But all the uncertainties one has felt about her over the weeks fell away for me tonight. Her awkward movement disappeared in the duet with Gwythion’s Oliver. At last she managed to make her body as expressive as her voice: her dancing was appropriately touching, endearing with the delightful Gwythion as foil. But it was also relaxed, confident and great fun to watch. Unfortunately, Jessie’s personal story isn’t as touching or sentimentally affecting as Jodie’s. And though that should be irrelevant anyway and would be in an audition run by ALW or CM, such things run deep with the general public. Socially that is a good thing, a quality of warmth and sensitivity that should not be lightly dismissed. However artistically is it the kiss of death. It is hard to believe that Denis Van Outen and John Barrowman actually in their heart of hearts believed that on the night Jessie was not the unmistakable star who would create a unique, like-no-other Nancy in a show desperate for that freshness. For despite its many qualities Oliver has now been done so many times that both its narrative and music has become hackneyed and tired.

With my family I was at the BBC as a member of a back-up jury whose votes would have been used as deciding votes had the public vote produced a draw. Both within the four of us and most of the 70 or so reserve jury, there was an unmistakable feeling that people were actually changing heir minds in favour of Jessie, so striking were her performances.

So the circus is over. I have to say it’s been fun. As Indicated last week, I think they will need to tweak the format a little to maintain our interest, as we are notoriously fickle. However within the musical theatre genre and to an extent the popular music genre, the show has thrown up some very talented young women and even younger boys. Niamh remains the most unusual, the most striking for me; even in the compilations at the end of this week show, she is the one you notice, the one your eyes follow. With choreography sensitive to her natural movements she moved well and her acting would have left less work required on it than Jessie’s would. Samantha is a pop-singer and no doubt will move in that direction professionally.

I don’t know about the legalities or contractual terms, but purely for commercial and artistic reasons, the ideal solution would be to have Jessie and Jodie alternating week by week in the part. It would certainly I think aid the box office for it offers the public the choice of the Nancy finalist they wanted most. Many people might also be tempted to see the show twice to compare the two. Plus the much vaunted strain of 6-days-a-week shows would be spread.

In the end I think Jodie has similarities to the ‘Nation’s Maria’ – Connie Fisher. I gather after leaving the Sound of Music, planned concerts tours were cancelled. The reason is that while Connie was always the essential Maria, it was always difficult to see who else she could be. It is equally hard to see what other musical role Jodie, unlike Jessie, would seem right for.

As for Oliver – I’ve never really been a great fan of the show but I certainly would have been very tempted to go to see Jessie as Nancy. I’m much less tempted with Jodie in the role. The other problem is that I can see Jodie quite happily taking on a non-starring role in the future. But Jessie is made to lead, be the focus of attention. It will be hard for her to make gradual steps towards the lead role that winning would have given her.

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