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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Any Dream Will Do'

BBC America retro-airs the search for a star to helm 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' in London.

March 28, 2009|ROBERT LLOYD | TELEVISION CRITIC

A 2-year-old British reality show whose prize was the lead role in a West End revival of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Any Dream Will Do" comes belatedly to BBC America Sunday night. One of three British casting-call competitions to have been created by or feature composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, it followed "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?," which found a new Maria for "The Sound of Music," and preceded "I'd Do Anything," which found a new Nancy for "Oliver!"

Now, my knowledge of the Lloyd Webber songbook encompasses only "Jesus Christ Superstar," a couple of the better-known tunes from "Evita" and probably a song from "Cats." But I understand that he is a god to many, an impression here underscored by host-narrator Graham Norton sometimes referring to him as "the Lord." (He is one.) But I like what I've seen of this show, which has an almost provincial sweetness, even an innocence, about it.

The opening episodes take us through the winnowing of thousands of applicants to 12 actual contestants, who learn their fate at the Lord's own Irish castle. Next it's on to the big studio stage, where the singers will be judged over the next several weeks by Folks Watching at Home. Of course, this has already happened.

On-camera judges include actor-singer John Barrowman, from "Torchwood"; "sharp-tongued vocal coach" Zoe Tyler; and TV presenter, West End actress and town flirt Denise Van Outen. Floating above them all is Lloyd Webber himself, who pops in "unexpectedly" like clockwork to exercise this or that executive prerogative. As the show that started him on his path of world domination, "Joseph" has special meaning for him, and we're told that he wants to move beyond the "professional boy-band types" who have formerly dominated the role to something fresh and new. ("A cross between Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson in the old days," is his radical ideal.)

Though the whole enterprise is presented as a giant gamble, it is in fact the most sensible thing in the world: an open casting call that has the added benefit of generating weeks of pre-opening publicity and puts in place a fan base for an unknown performer even before his career proper begins. Tickets flew out the window when "Joseph" finally opened.

That the contest is ancient history and its winner's highly successful and much-extended West End run as Joseph is now over doesn't much matter. Unless you get Lloyd Webber's e-mail blasts, or follow the British tabloids (the winner is engaged to Van Outen, his former judge), it's easy enough not to know his name. But more to the point, we re-watch reality competitions -- if they're any good -- even when we do know the final score.

What makes "Any Dream Will Do" so appealing is its fundamental goodheartedness. This is a portrait of young British males at their most sensitive, crying when they lose, crying when they win, hugging one another and the judges in victory or defeat. (And the judges are reciprocally tender; even the puckish Norton is more sweet than salty here.) A few characters are highlighted early: the 32-year-old family man, the Irish kid raised by his grandparents ("Aw, big fella," he says as his grandfather tears up with love), the ferry worker who takes care of his mother. But there is no guarantee they'll stay late.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Any Dream Will Do'

Where: BBC America

When: 5 and 8 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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