After eight weeks of rather convoluted heats and eliminations and an even more erratic guest judge line-up, the BBC’s Let It Shine has reached its final. From a light entertainment perspective, this has been Saturday night TV heaven. The search for a boy-band to star in Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s musical The Band has fused the talent show format established by Simon Cowell with the search-for-a-star programme championed by Andrew Lloyd-Webber. We may bluster about training, experience and the very noticeable lack of acting nurtured for the roles, but Let It Shine has been a ratings winner and it puts musical theatre in the spotlight at primetime – no bad thing.
Of course, it has already been a very good week for Firth and Barlow. The Girls  has opened at the Phoenix to generally glowing notices, so this Saturday night could be the start of the duo’s next big hit. They’ve certainly had a lot of publicity for this commercial venture, another aspect of the show that has been controversial to say the least.
For the finale, we finally find out that the musical The Band will actually tell the story of a group of girls featuring a boy-band sing who the soundtrack to their lives. Arguably the worst kept secret in town, this may well explain the lack of focus on the boys acting ability – the boy-band is a Greek Chorus of sorts and the acting is undertaken elsewhere on stage. Yet to re-enforce its musical theatre chops, this episode also shoe-horned as many musicals into the programme as possible.
There were visits to the West End and interviews with Cassidy Janson, Charlie Stemp and David Fynn, while in the studio Michael Ball and Alfie Boe popped up to remind us how pompous musical theatre can sound out of context. By far and away the best addition to the finale was Peter Kay as a guest judge. Once Barlow, Dannii Minogue and had assured us that it was now a matter for the audience vote, the role of the judges became superfluous beyond the usual hyperbolic sound bites. Kay brought a wicked sense of humour to the proceedings and seemed far better value than Robbie Williams, whose much touted appearance was fleeting and fairly irrelevant.
The final three bands got to sing two numbers each this week, including a musical theatre song and a pop ballad. Anyone expecting Oklahoma! or Next to Normal were always going to be disappointed but songs from Footloose, Hairspray and Grease are probably closer to The Band’s emotional range. To be honest, Nightfall‘s rendition of Footloose was quite poor, including a few off notes although it isn’t a great number in the first place.
Let It Shine – Five to Five
Five to Five were on much safer ground with the lively You Can’t Stop The Beat and gave the number the energy it deserved. Drive decided to perform the karaoke favourite Grease is the Word, again not a great number but they gave the song a sense of narrative and partnered this with a fun dance routine.
Let It Shine – Nightfall
For the pop ballad, Nightfall have always been the strongest vocalists but they knocked it out of the ball park with End of the Road. Seriously, this was probably the best performance of the series and while Five to Five delivered a respectable Wrecking Ball, Drive‘s problematic Thinking Out Loud probably cost them the contest.
Let It Shine – The winning band is announced
My money had been on Five to Five winning for a few weeks now, so naturally the result was satisfying, and I am genuinely happy for the lads. They have youth, energy, personality and no-little talent on their side. They will now enter a rigorous rehearsal schedule with some of the best mentors in the industry and rehearse for a show with an already massive following on board. Had Nightfall or Drive won, I could imagine Five to Five continuing as a boy band and yet not the other way around.
The Band starts touring later this year. It’s had more publicity in the UK than Hamilton so far and to the average punter, probably has much stronger set of narrative reference points. Quite how well The Band will play, only time will tell.