Get our free email newsletter with just one click

BBC1 is looking for ‘The Voice’ – just not a musical theatre one

by -

Another week, another insult to musical theatre – although this week it had nothing to do with ITV and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

No – this week it was the turn of BBC1 show The Voice UK.

And, specifically, of Danny O’Donoghue, from a band called The Script, who is a judge on the show.

If you haven’t seen this sorry excuse for an entertainment programme, then firstly, well done for avoiding it this far, and secondly, let me give you some context (bear with me, but it’s relevant).

Basically, the format sees four judges – sorry, not judges, they preferred to be called coaches (and I prefer to call them something else, but that’s not for print) –  sitting with their backs to a number of contestants, who each take it in turn to sing for the panel.

The idea is that the panel can then make a judgment (but remember, don’t call them judges) on a performer’s singing based on their voice alone. And if they like what they hear they can swivel their chair around to face the person. By doing so, they’ve chosen to mentor that contestant.

[pullquote]Presumably O’Donoghue would prefer it if words were inaudible – I dread to think what his own music sounds like[/pullquote]

And yes, this does mean that sometimes none of the judges turn around. #awkward!

This is exactly what happened to 17-year-old Sam Hollyman after he performed Your Song at the weekend.

And, having decided not to turn his chair around, O’Donoghue, the Script singer, explained it was because he had “slightly heard music theatre in there”, before adding “there’s pronouncing the words and there’s over-pronouncing the words”.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is this week’s insult to musical theatre.

Yes, in musical theatre, it helps to hear what’s being said. But that isn’t exclusive to musicals. I know lots of people who like to hear the lyrics to songs, musical theatre or not. Presumably O’Donoghue would prefer it if words were inaudible – I dread to think what his own music sounds like.

But what annoys me about his comment is that it implies, somehow, that musical theatre is beneath him – beneath pop music. He may as well have said: “You’re not good enough to be a pop star, but there’s always musicals”.

Charming! But let’s not forget where pop singers turn when their own flagging music careers need a boost – Kimberley Walsh, Joe McElderry, Shane Ward, Melanie C – that’s right, musical theatre. And I don’t recall anybody saying: “Their voices are just too pop-music for musical theatre”.

That’s because, to my mind, musical theatre combines a range of voices, according to a show’s needs. Rock of Ages requires a different style to Phantom, for example.

And look at Once that has just opened in the West End. If you’ve seen it, you will know it’s based around folk music – and in particular one lead singer/songwriter. It’s much more like sitting in a bar with a group of musicians than it is a theatre with musical theatre performers. And the lead, Declan Bennett, actually began his career – you’ve guessed it – as part of a pop band called Point Break.

What makes O’Donoghue’s comment so ridiculous is that he later in last weekend’s episode turned his chair around for Liam Tamne – someone who has been in Les Miserables. But Tamne’s voice wasn’t too musical theatre for him then. Which only proves, perhaps, there is no such thing as sounding ‘too musical theatre’.

Okay – maybe O’Donoghue didn’t mean any offence by his comment. But judging by Twitter in the wake of it, he managed to upset quite a few people with it.

And all of this aside, the show is called The Voice. So if a voice is good – whether it’s one O’Donoghue thinks is too “music theatre” or not – it deserves to be heard.

I just hope O’Donoghue doesn’t come knocking on theatre’s door when his own career needs a boost. He might find he’s not very welcome.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.