Only just a few days ago, on my own personal blog, I wrote a piece (some would call it a rant) about Simon Cowell. I won’t go into the details here, suffice to say that the gist of it expressed my dislike for the rampant ego-mania that the man personifies.
It didn’t surprise me today to stumble across a story that he is reportedly planning a West End musical version of the X Factor. It seems an obvious, as yet untapped, part of the brand with which to squeeze more cash out of gullible and undiscerning members of the public and, as the source of the story said, “given how much Simon enjoys making money, I’m surprised he didn’t think of it sooner.”
Well, Mr Cowell, step aside, because somebody certainly did think of it sooner, and the results are up on a stage here in the North-East this week for everyone to see.
‘Spotlight’ is an original new musical by Newcastle College students Rachel Horowitz and Jonny Chambers. The story focuses on a fictional X-Factor-like talent search, StarSearchUK, where a whole host of fresh faces think they’ve got what it takes to make it big. They all arrive at the auditions under different circumstances; there’s a doctor with dreams of releasing an album, a teenager struggling with the loss of her mother and the ever-increasing media pressure being placed on her. We meet a bitchy girl band and pop’s hottest new boy band on their journey to super-stardom, as we explore the relationships they make and break. Tackling real issues that are present in the lives of young people today, Spotlight is a new breed of musical that challenges the perceptions of the audience and the wider public.
It’s being staged at the College’s SPACE Bar this week – although that wasn’t the original plan for the show when it was dreamed up. “Although we had our hearts set on the Peter Sarah Theatre originally,” they tell us, “the powers that be felt otherwise and sadly there was no chance that theatre would be made available for us.” In hindsight, though, the creative team are now really glad they’ve got the SPACE bar. “The ‘space’ (pardon the pun) will work really well for the type of show that this is. It means we can be more creative with staging and allows for a much larger audience than the studio theatre.”
With a creative team of five and a cast of twenty-two, as well as countless other ‘behind-the-scenes’ contributors, this is a pretty big undertaking for these young North-East students – many of whom are tackling these roles for the first time. Director Rachel Horowitz, who also wrote the music and lyrics, said, “I’m excited to make my directing début in a show I’ve co-created. After months of editing and writing with Jonny and Scott, it’s great to be bringing the show to life.”
Jonny Chambers, who, as well as playing the part of Dean Rover, “a sneaky dishonest sleazebag reporter for a tabloid newspaper”, wrote the book and additional lyrics for the show. “I’ve written sell out pantomimes for theatres and touring companies across the North East,” he said, “and I’ve had the opportunity to write drama for radio. However, Spotlight marks my first Musical Book.” And Musical Director Scott Ampleford added, “Although Spotlight isn’t the first stage production I’ve composed for, It is my first musical. My previous work as a songwriter in bands and as a solo artist has proved invaluable for writing and arranging pieces in the wide selection of styles that a show like Spotlight demands.”
So – when it comes to actually writing a musical they are a relatively inexperienced team, maybe. However that certainly doesn’t reflect their professionalism in their approach to the whole process and their dedication to the production. Nor, indeed, the ambition of the project, which has grown from “just an idea between three friends” into a full scale performance with 24 musical numbers.
Jonny Chambers tells me: “Just one song called ‘Betty Monroe’ and a few throw away plot devices soon developed into the show that we’re now putting on.” But it has been no walk in the park, as the team faced hurdle after hurdle to mount the show. “In fact,” Jonny continues, “our finale song, ‘The Show Must Go On‘, became quite a fitting anthem throughout rehearsals.”
They have, of course, been assisted in their efforts by the brilliant technical staff and lecturers at Newcastle College. Having the College’s resources available has meant they’ve been able to secure valuable rehearsal space, technical equipment and assistance, script advice, as well as many other things necessary to pull a show together. But this shouldn’t detract from the youngsters efforts. “We’ve striven to prove to anyone that doubted it that diploma students can create something to be proud of, and hopefully our determination to prove our worth will pay off.”
Admirable words indeed, showing a kind of raw passion that Simon Cowell’s cash-generating effort – if it ever happens – will be very hard pressed to match.
I’m really looking forward to seeing their show this week, supporting Newcastle College and this superb group of students. I hope to see you there!
(The show runs this Wednesday 21st until Friday 23rd March. At the Rye Hill Campus, Scotswood Road, Newcastle NE4 7SA. Tickets are only £3)