Back in March I blogged about the start of the BBC’s new musical talent competition I’d Do Anything, which searches for a girl to play Nancy in a new U.K. stage production of Lionel Bart’s Dickens-based musical Oliver!
With a judging panel that includes Andrew Lloyd Webber and a selection process that combines the public vote with ALW’s decisions, the original 12 finalists have now been whittled down to five. They’re still quite a diverse lot, ranging in age from 17 to 28. And no fewer than three of them are Irish, raising the interesting question of whether Nancy needs to be played as a born-and-bred London East End girl, as she has traditionally been played, or whether she could in fact have an Irish background.
The youngest of the five finalists is 17-year-old Catherine Zeta-Jones lookalike Samantha Barks, who comes from the Isle of Man (temporarily renamed the "Isle of Sam" in her honor):
Although I wonder if she’d really have the stamina and experience to hold the role, she’s certainly done very well in the last couple of weeks, performing "Sway (Mucho Mambo)" and Destiny’s Child‘s "Survivor" with plenty of confidence. She has never yet been in the bottom two (i.e., the two contestants who have received the lowest amount of public votes that week, one of whom is then saved by ALW, the other sent home).
Next youngest is 17-year-old Northern Irish girl Niamh Perry:
I have mixed feelings about Niamh. She seems totally wrong for the tough, rough-living Nancy, and she’s also not very emotionally expressive. But she’s still very enjoyable to watch, being a light, skippy dancer and having a clear, bell-like voice. Perhaps she would do better in a role like Alice in Alice in Wonderland. The audience have put her in the bottom two twice now, so she may be the next to go.
18-year-old Irish girl Jessie Buckley certainly looks the part of Nancy, with her curly, dark red hair:
The judges have continually given her very favorable comments, but I admit I’m puzzled as to why. Her body language onstage seems very awkward to me, and she speaks out of the side of her mouth almost as much as Joey Potter in Dawson’s Creek. She’s definitely talented, but it seems to me like she needs a lot more training.
Twenty-six-year-old Belfast native Rachel Tucker is also in the final five:
Rachel has had previous professional stage experience, and with her consistently reliable performances she seemed like a shoo-in for Nancy. But in the last couple of weeks she’s faltered with weak performances of upbeat songs that aren’t good for showcasing what the judges call her "wounded" quality. Still, with more experience and maturity than most of the other Nancies, she shouldn’t be ruled out just yet.
Finally, 28-year-old Jodie Prenger is from Blackpool in England:
With her buxom figure and motherly, extrovert air, it’s easy to picture her as Nancy, and she’s given good performances week after week, although they can sometimes feel a bit similar. Like Samantha and Jessie, she has never yet been in the bottom two.
When the competition first started, I wondered if, given that there were 12 finalists, any of them would come out as lesbian or bisexual over the course of the show. (I’d Do Anything frequently delves into the background and personal lives of its contestants, and several of the girls have mentioned boyfriends or fiancés. I wondered if the show would be prepared to be similarly open about a Nancy with a lesbian relationship).
According to this recent article, three of the remaining Nancy finalists — Samantha, Rachel and Jodie — all have boyfriends or fiancés. Niamh says that "I don’t have time for a boyfriend," and Jessie says that "I’m single — which is a good job as I’d drive a boyfriend crazy at the moment."
It may mean nothing, but an anonymous poster on the forums of U.K. entertainment site Digital Spy recently claimed to have insider knowledge that "at least one [of the Nancies] is gay" (though the poster doesn’t specify whether s/he is talking about all of the 12 finalists or only the remaining ones left in the Nancy House).
Anyway, gay or not gay, I’m hooked on this show, though I think I’d be even more hooked if I had an openly lesbian Nancy to vote for! What about you? Do you have a favorite? And are you voting?