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Let It Shine: Gary Barlow musical talent show gets under way

Deaglan Arthurs on Let It Shine. Photo: BBC
Deaglan Arthurs on Let It Shine. Photo: BBC
Paul Vale
Paul has been writing for The Stage since 1998. He is a big fan of musical theatre, cabaret and the fringe.
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It's been six years since the BBC launched a talent contest aimed at casting a stage musical. After a flurry of series to find leading players for The Sound of Music, Joseph and Oliver!, the format all but disappeared from TV schedules. Now it's back, primetime on a Saturday night, featuring some very well-known faces and one or two tweaks to spice things up a bit. The first episode of Let It Shine aired at 7pm on January 7.

Let It Shine – the format

Unlike previous formats, the musical being cast is an unknown quantity. The work – The Band – has been penned by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow, featuring musical numbers from the Take That back catalogue. Producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers will be touring the show later in the year. The other major difference is that Barlow and his team of judges are looking for not one but five performers, to make up the fictitious boy band in the musical.

Let It Shine – the judges

This is very much Barlow's gig and his popular appeal, coupled with recent composer credits on musicals Finding Neverland and The Girls make the singer-songwriter the natural front man for the judging panel. He is joined by panel veteran Dannii Minogue, boy band veteran Martin Kemp and Dreamgirls and Glee star Amber Riley. The first four episodes are pre-recorded and by all accounts there will be guest judges along the way. Certainly Miss Riley is likely to be missing later as she is currently on leave from Dreamgirls with pneumonia.

Without any peers of the realm in the mix, Let It Shine has a much more laid-back vibe and laddish sensibilities permeate the show. Backstage, the contestants are shooting pool, playing darts or juicing while chatting to co-host Mel Giedroyc about their aspirations. On stage, Graham Norton is an exceptionally quick witted co-host, bantering with the hopefuls and the panel and proving a lynchpin to the success of the formats.

Let It Shine – Clinton Elvis

Clinton Elvis. Photo: BBC
Clinton Elvis. Photo: BBC

Of course, it all rests with the contestants and this first episode provided a fascinating mix of professional and non-professional talent. East London born Clinton Elvis had the unenviable task of opening the show and while there were definitely some nerves in his performance, his arrangement of Jackie Wilson's Higher and Higher showed off his range and versatility. Charisma is a word that popped up constantly on the judges wish-list, and Elvis certainly had plenty to offer.

Let It Shine – Deaglan Arthurs

Northern Ireland's Deaglan Arthurs from County Tyrone is perhaps less obviously boy band material but he brought a genuine slice of showbiz to his rendition of New York, New York. Again nerves might have been getting the better of his lower register, but Declan is a natural performer and got both the audience and panel on side for his place in the next round.

Let It Shine – Jazzie Mattis

Jazzie Mattis is a professional dancer but it's the vocals that are going to count at this stage. He dived straight in with a foot-tapping rendition of Uptown Funk that also provided a fantastic intro to some killer dance moves. The number proved a real crowd-pleaser and it secured the Nottingham lad a place in the next round.

Let It Shine – Nick Carsberg

Nick Carsberg. Photo: BBC
Nick Carsberg. Photo: BBC

Baby-faced Nick Carsberg from Essex had all the swagger and archetype looks of a boy band member and a line of cheeky patter to make even the seasoned Minogue blush. His vocals may not have been overwhelming but it' s good enough to see him through to the next round. It's early days but Carsberg seems extremely comfortable in the spotlight.

Let It Shine – Jamie Ryan Taylor, Wayne Thurtell

It's not all good news of course, with both Jamie Ryan Taylor and Wayne Thurtell failing to win enough point to make it beyond this stage.

Let It Shine – Tyler Smith

The format altered slightly to introduce Scarborough teenager Tyler Smith, that pandered to Barlow's celebrity. His surprise visit to the young waiter at work was well intentioned and provided a change of pace but Smith's performance was borderline at best. He made it through to the next round but has a lot of work to do before then.

Let It Shine – Nicky Price

Welsh teenager Nicky Price however couldn't conceal his glee after winning a maximum score from the judges. The 17-year old student from Neath, South Wales delivered a touching rendition of Say Something. Price had a strong vocal technique, matched with an instinctive ability to lend a narrative to the familiar pop ballad. The audience was certainly on his side and the judges lapped it up.

Let It Shine – Jason Brock

At the other end of the scale, Jason Brock is a 30-year performer currently appearing in Thriller Live in the West End. Telling nobody that he was entering, with no family members for the cameras to focus on, Brock pretty much knocked all of the competition to one side with a blistering version of Run to You. He certainly earned his maximum score and he also put the scope of Let It Shine into perspective.

Let It Shine – what next?

Going forward, what can we expect? It's too early to spot the cliches but there's a quizzical look that crosses Barlow's face when he is booed for a negative comment. I'm sure he's not used to that reaction too often. Kemp is set to become the Len Goodman of Let It Shine and his observations are astute and well-phrased. It's worth noting too that in the whole episode, he is the only judge who mentions acting as being integral to the job of a musical theatre performer.

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