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I am the starlight  
Our exclusive report on the German TV search for a star...
Thomas Gottshalk

On the first day, the Lord created Maria.  He soon realised that  he had a hit on his hands so it wasn’t long before Joseph followed, and others too got on the bandwagon.  Two years on and these reality/talent shows are very much part of the entertainment landscape.  Last year saw casting shows for Grease both here and in America, and now it seems that it’s gone worldwide.  So far this year the trend has given us I’d Do Anything, and over in Canada they are trying to solve a problem called Maria. Even Germany has caught the bug and currently has two casting shows on air.

Ich Tarzan, Du Jane  is the first of these shows. Disney’s Tarzan was not a great success in it’s recent Broadway run but that hasn’t stopped German TV channel Sat1 from searching for the two lead roles for a forthcoming production.  I have managed to see a few clips from the show and basically it features young and pretty types singing pop songs and is kind of like X Factor but with props.  Sadly I haven’t seen the whole show so can’t really comment further.

However, I was able to see ZDF’s offering Musical Showstar 2008.  Hosted by Thomas Gottshalk, one of German television’s biggest stars, they have really pulled the stops out with this spectacular talent search.  The format is very similar to the American Idol/X Factor/I’d Do Anything shows that we know and love.  A judging panel of three includes Uwe Kroeger, Germany’s answer to John Barrowman (albeit much more serious).  Having lead the cast of many of Germany’s big shows over the last decade or so including Miss Saigon, Sunset Boulevard and Tanz Der Vampires, not to mention a brief run in the West End with Napolean,  he is an obvious choice for the panel.

Unlike other shows of the genre, Musical Showstar is searching for two lead performers for an existing hit show. Starlight Express has been running in Bochum since 1988 and the search is on for the show’s romantic leads, Pearl and Rusty.  Bizarrelly, not all of the candidates appear to be obvious choices for the roles. With ages ranging from late teens up to 30s – they are literally all shapes and sizes and don’t necessarily have what would be considered the appropriate physique for such a physically demanding show.  Where this show shines is that rather than performing a sequence of pop songs, all the performers do well-known show tunes, in character, in staged production numbers and costumes. This really gives them the chance to show their mettle and display their acting as well as singing chops.  For the first live show the performers gave a good group version of Fame before we were introduced to Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon who had been giving them some vocal coaching. The clip they showed of this was hilarious. There were these would be musical steam trains with Villazon encouraging them by yodelling full-blown operatics in their face at short range. Complete with Shirley Bassey hand gestures. After this he and Gottshalk were joined on the sofa by Uberchanteuse, and star of London’s Chicago,  Ute Lemper.

Next we got to see the ten candidates actually perform – and the judges caustic comments after. Not to mention the preceding background “clip”.  First up was Kevin Kohler, a 24-year-old Hamburger, with an energetic English language performance of “Tragedy” . It did come across a little stilted vocally as he wasn’t that comfortable singing in English but as an acting performance it was great and drew positive comments from the judges. 23-year-old Christina Maria Brenner was next up with a beautifully sung “Erinnerung” . This for uninitiated is “Memory” of course. Sadly she eschewed the full-blown Grizabella treatment and opted for a glamorous ball gown.  “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” was the next question and Marcel Brauneis answered.  Instead of donning the complete Simba makeup, Marcel opted to go bare chested, also sporting a fetching brown bolero and some leopard skin pajama bottoms. Beautifully sung, but the judges, particularly Kroeger, criticized his acting ability. Next a little blue-eyed soul known as 34 year old Franziska Forster belted out “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”.  Much was made of the fact that she was a housewife and mother. OK, well, if we are getting technical ‘hausfrau und mutter’, but the panel were impressed and Lemper provided her feedback on what it’s like to be a Schauspielerin and mutter at the same time for any voters who may have their misgivings! Next came  the unlikely, and rather rotund, Alexander Herzog who sang a bumptious number from Beauty And The Beast in German – then drew rapturous comments from the judges and a great response from the audience.  Personally I didn’t get it. But then again, if my relatives are anything to go by, the Germans do like someone who enjoys their food.  The reubenesque Navina Heare then attempted to defy gravity also in German. Sadly she failed to impress the panel.  Next up we were introduced to 32-year-old Petter Bjallo. Before his song we were shown a short clip of him and his life partner singing Cole Porter’s “True Love” round the piano. Very touching and not camp at all! His song, was a dramatic German version of “This Is The Moment” from Jekyll And Hyde. I thought he acquitted himself well but things got heavy for Petter as the panel disagreed. Mostly with his theatrical hand gestures. I suspect he had been watching Rolando Villazon too intently! Anna Maria Schmidt possibly got the nights best comments for her German Pocahontas number – she did sing it beautifully but it wasn’t a song that particularly showed her acting ability. However her clip did show that she loved her Grandpa. Bless!  Penultimately we had the youngest finalist, 19 year old Kaj Binder giving sweet “Sandy” from Grease and managing to ride a Chopper bicycle and emote at the same time. The judges seemed to like him and Ute Lemper said her oldest daughter would really love him! Finally we got Sarah Medina with a stilted version of “Dance Ten Looks Three”  another performer who didn’t sound comfortable singing in English, but managed to “act” this “chorus line” song about tits and ass well enough to wow the judges and the audience.

So that was it. All the performers had performed and the phone lines were open. For five minutes. Next we were shown a clip from the  Bochum Starlight set where the ten got to put their skates on and try a few moves on set. This was hastily brushed over when the portly Herzog failed to stay upright for more than a second at a time. Anyway, moving on…. The next part of the show was a real treat as I got to see Ute Lemper perform Cabaret.  Truly fantastic, and a hard act to live up to for the competitors!  One small criticism. When Germans say a “S” sound it often comes out as a “Sh”. Now imagine her singing “What good is sitting alone in your room”. A slight problem!

Then we get to find out who is out. Alexander and Anna Maria are first to be told they are safe until it’s wittled down to two boys and girls. Then we go to commercial break. So who got the boot? Well Kaj is first for the chop despite his chopper. And the unlucky girl?  Well she did try but Navina failed to defy gravity or capture the audience vote. And that’s it – my experience of “Musical Showstar” is over. Well, not quite. On returning home I discovered that I can watch the entire live show (sans background clips) on the ZDF website. I may well log on tonight and watch the further two instalments. So watch this space!

(c) Markus Ritzmann 2008

Posted on: 25th April 2008

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