And so we reach the final week. Cue lots of tears in VT packages from Samantha, Jessie and Jodie. Anybody would think the Josephs were in the house. Oh, lots of them were — I spotted Ben, Chris Crosby and Lewis in the audience but there were doubtless more.
The opening number was, of course, I’d Do Anything, reuniting all twelve Olivers and all twelve Nancies. Oh Fran, oh Sarah, how we’ve missed you. Oh Amy, oh Cleo, how we’d like to have seen more of you — you went too soon. Oh Tara — you didn’t…
The first round of solo performances was designed to evoke an emotional response. First up, Jodie sang Son of a Preacher Man. A song retelling the experiences with a past love, it requires the singer to literally tell a story, rather than some of the songs in this series where the narrative element has been far more implicit. And Jodie delivered an excellent rendition — powerful, but controlled and melodic.
Samantha followed with Anyone Who had a Heart. The theme of the song is a wronged woman conflicted about her lover’s betrayal. Thematically, it’s the closest of the three songs to Nancy’s relationship with Bill in Oliver!. It was a strong performance, although the subtleties of the song — shifting from love to anger and back, often within a single line — suffered from a delivery that went a bit too far in both directions.
Finally in this round, Jessie sang The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Rather sensibly, given the problems she’s often displayed in her movement, she spent the entire song sitting on a stool — which also meant she could leave her hands by her side or in her lap, and thus avoid the temptation to run them through her hair. All this meant she could concentrate on the vocal side of her performance which, as we’ve seen in previous weeks, is peerless.
So at the end of the first round, for me the leader was Jodie, closely followed by Jessie and Samantha.
The next round saw each of the Nancies team up with one of the three winning Olivers. Nominally, the Olivers had ‘chosen’ a Nancy to perform with, although I doubt things were that simple — what if two boys had selected the same actress?
Anyway, Laurence and Jodie kicked off the duets with Getting to Know You from The King And I. The two showed great chemistry together, combining a good vocal performance with some deceptively simple choreography. In terms of how Nancy would work with Oliver and the rest of Fagin’s gang, it was a confident display of ability.
Next up, Harry and Samantha sang Singin’ in the Rain. Now, I think this suffered from not being a natural song to perform as a duet, and being the only song not to have been written with child performers in mind. Also, their voices didn’t gel, either in terms of vocal quality but also tuning — but the struggling performer on that front was Harry rather than Sam. The choreography meant that both performers were playing to the audience more than they were to each other. And that was a shame, as when the had they opportunity they showed that they could work well together.
Bringing up the rear, Gwion and Jessie duetted Truly Scrumptious from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The couple benefitted from the song that was the lightest and most suitable for the young lead. The relationship between the two was highly effective, and in parts Jessie showed that she can, indeed, move effectively when choreographed correctly. Extending their relationship to the rest of Fagin’s gang, I get the impression that Jessie’s Nancy would be more of a mischievous big sister than the maternal figure we normally associate with the role — butthat’s no bad thing.
In this round, I’d say that Jessie came top, marginally having the edge over Jodie, with Samantha again beaten into third place.
To finish off the first round, the three Nancies were to perform Maybe This Time as a trio — with a masterclass from none other than Liza Minnelli. My God, could this show get any more gay?
The performance itself was interesting. Samantha looked the most comfortable on stage, Jodie the least — especially in the sequences where the three were given the same choreography to perform. Vocally, Jessie gave far and away the best performance, but again visually her enactment of her emotions let her down a little.
While the votes for third place were counted, last year’s winner Lee Mead put in an appearance, singing Any Dream Will Do with the twelve Olivers as his backing choir. Now, I’m on record as not particularly liking Joseph as a musical, but it’s a role that Lee inhabits completely and improves without measure. His performance was far more assured than any he gave during the run of Any Dream Will Do — it’s amazing how much he’s developed as a performer over the past year.
As the first programme drew to an end, the finalist in third place was revealed to be Samantha. It’s been a close call, but I think it was the right decision to leave Jodie and Jessie to fight it out for the role of Nancy.
In the final show, just two more songs stood between the girls and their dream role. First, both girls had to perform As Long As He Needs Me. We’ve seen ten performances of the same song up to now, as one by one the Nancies have felt the stage, and most of them have varied from very good to excellent. Here, both Jodie and Jessie were at the very top end of that scale. The huskiness of Jodie’s voice for me suits the song better, while the purity of Jessie’s belt is truly phenomenal. As Andrew pointed out, it’s unlikely that Jessie would be able to deliver a performance of the same quality night after night, describing Jodie’s delivery as “solid” and “safe”. Neither of which are bad qualities when casting a long term leading lady.
As the final performance of the nine Olivers and ten Nancies that didn’t quite make it to the final selection, the choice of Take That’s Never Forget was a perfect match. It’s a pop song with a narrative drive; it (just about) qualifies as a musical theatre crossover, now that the musical of the same name is playing at the Savoy Theatre; it has clear parts for the Olivers to shine as a choir; and the lyric is particularly appropriate for the performers as a whole. Some of the flaws which led them to not make the cut were still visible (a couple of the boys have never looked comfortable on stage, and one or two of the Nancies had tuning problems). But we know from the experience of the last two years that participation in a show such as this can help propel many of them to the next stage in their career, and there are plenty of people in this year’s group who deserve every success.
Back to the main competition, though, and the final performance from both actresses was to be their personal choice of all the songs they have sung throughout the series. Jodie chose I Have Nothing from week 7 (those sites which only count the live shows count it as week 5, remember). Personally I would have selected her rendition of Send in the Clowns, but this was probably the best choice to show off her vocal talents to the full. It was phenomenal the first time round, and even better this time.
Whereas Jodie had a few songs to choose from for her best song of the series, there was only really one choice for Jessie, who reprised The Man That Got Away from week 8. I was conflicted with this performance, to be honest. Vocally, it was an improvement on her previous, superlative rendition. I still remain unconvinced by her posture and visual performance, though. The last time she performed it, she was so impressive vocally that it was easy to overlook her weaknesses. At this final stage of the competition, though, however good her voice is one had to look at the whole package.
As the pair stood for the final vote, the panel had to give their votes for who they thought was Nancy. In the end, Denise and John both plumped for Jodie, while Barry, Cameron and Andrew all put their weight behind Jessie. It wasn’t their decision to make, though, as the public decided that Jodie Prenger was their choice to play Nancy. Of the final two, she was my choice too.
Andrew and Cameron may have started out by saying that they wanted a rawer, rougher edge to Nancy. They have ended up with an actress who fits a much more traditional idea of the musical role. But nobody has really lost here — the Theatre Royal Drury Lane has a great leading lady for their production, and musical theatre in general has benefited from some great exposure in Saturday night primetime. If the BBC decide to do a fourth series in the same vein, you can bet I’ll be watching.