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Light at the end of the tunnel  
In the second part of his exclusive blog, Markus Ritzmann watches the finale of German TV's Search for a Star ...
Starlight Express Bochum artwork

Now where was I? Oh yes! I was in Germany with a bar of Suchard’s Milka watching Musical Showstar 2008. Well, the holiday was soon over but I did manage to watch the two further editions of this casting show online.  It’s not nearly as comfortable sitting at my PC, and yes I did miss the chocolate, but it was great to be able to log on and see what happened next.

As you will remember the point of the show was to find a Rusty and Pearl for the Bochum production of Starlight Express which has been wowing audiences since 1988.  Appropriately enough the second edition began with a medley from the show, and the eight remaining contestants proved that they could remain upright on a pair of roller skates and sing at the same time. They even managed a little choreography.

The same three judges were in position. As well as Uwe Kroeger, who I mentioned last time, the others were Alexander Goebel – Germany’s first Phantom – and Katja Ebstein who performed in their production of Chicago. Joining Gottschalk on the sofa, was American-born Helen Schneider who played Norma Desmond in the German premier of Sunset Boulevard (opposite Kroeger) and Meatloaf who surprisingly began his career in Broadway musicals.

The first performance of the night was a lively Petter singing “I Got Life” from Hair. He really got into the spirit of things and it was a good try but sadly he didn’t quite convince as a hippie flower child.

Christina Maria Brenner chose a song from a particular favourite of mine; the German-language hit Elisabeth, and sang the beautiful “Ich Gehor Nur Mir”. The audience loved it and I was very impressed by her fantastic vocals and dramatic performance. Uwe wasn’t won over by her characterization saying that he felt she brought herself to it rather than inhabiting the character of “Sissy”. He was in the minority however as Goebel was effusive in his praise.

Kevin Kohler’s version of “Any Dream Will Do” suffered from him not sounding comfortable singing in English again; however it was a thoroughly entertaining performance and it was clear that he would make a great Rusty; but on this occasion he failed to impress the judges.

Sarah Medina improved on her previous song by singing “Macavity” from Cats in her own language.  Yet again she was wearing a leotard! However this time she had the addition of cat ears!

Marcel Brauneis was particularly impressive with a performance of “I Want To Break Free” from We Will Rock You. The judges gave him his best comments so far and were unanimous in saying he would make a great Rusty.  Meatloaf was in agreement – in his words “You rocked man!”

The beautifully voiced, if a little bland, Anna Maria Schmidt followed, and failed to impress me with “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”.

Then we came to Alexander Herzog. You may remember that Alexander was the portly one who fell off his skates. Anyway, he made a shrewd choice by singing “Out There” from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame – which has seen a successful German stage production.  He really had the hump (sorry I can’t help it) and sang very well, but Rusty? Hmmmm.

My favourite performance of the night came from Franziska Forster who transformed herself from the blue-eyed soul singer of the previous week to full show biz pizzazz with “All That Jazz” She was really fantastic and Uwe rightly said she was the contests strongest performer.

So the phone lines were open and Helen Schneider took to the stage for an uber-dramatic rendition of “Wein Nicht Um Mich Argentien”. I am sure you can work out the translation of that for yourself! Meatloaf then gave an impassioned speech saying that the contestants were far better than those on a recent American TV casting show. I thought Kevin Kohler was going to cry!  Anyway, it appeared that Petter had hit a bum note with his mooning and he left the competition along with Sarah. They both took their disappointment on the chin, and erstwhile cat Sarah didn’t even cough up a fur ball. So we bade them goodbye and the evening ended on a high with the remaining entrants delivering an energetic medley of “Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In” again from Hair.

The Finale

As in the previous editions the evening began with Thomas Gottschalk and his amazing hair entering to the strains of “What A Feeling”. He then introduced the finalists who launched into a rousing rendition of Cabaret’s “Wilkommen”.  I still feel a tad traumatized from seeing Alexander dressed like a Chicago boy, but Kevin definitely had the edge on all the others with a highly polished dance performance. After enjoying the song, Gotttschalk retired to the sofa where he was joined by a returning Rolando Villazon (he of the big voice and Shirley Bassey-esque hand gestures) and the permatanned George Hamilton.

It was of course the final so this edition was going to be a little different to previous instalments and began with a few duets.  Marcel and Kevin were first up with “Don’t Stop Me Now” and gave a great performance. Kevin still sounded uncomfortable however, and Marcel really struggled with the high notes. Overall it wasn’t a bad start to the evening though and Alexander Goebel was impressed. Mind you, he did call them the Siegfried and Roy of musicals but in all fairness Marcel’s hair was a little OTT.

I really felt for Alexander Herzog and Anna Maria Schmidt as they sang “All I Ask Of You” in German. Not only was Goebel the original German Phantom, but Kroeger sang the role for the German movie soundtrack and Sarah Brightman was in the studio. Not nerve wracking at all!!!!! Anna Maria seemed to struggle but Alexander fared better – though neither was exceptional. Perhaps they were distracted by the Eiffel Tower which strangely towered over them?  I thought they worked well together but of course Uwe disagreed.  Goebel loved it, but then it is his favourite show and he has played the role of Phantom over 1,300 times. They definitely saved the best duet for last with Christiana and Franzizka singing a German version of Mamma Mia’s “Dancing Queen”. Christina would make a fab Tania, and really got into the spirit of things. The girls got the best comments so far.

Before the solo performances, Sarah Brightman sang the beautiful “Symphony” from her current album. The song is an English translation of a big hit by German band, Silbermond. She looked absolutely stunnning and even managed to speak a little German in her interview, all in all very impressive!

Poor Alexander Herzog! We see him in lycra, on skates, and with a hump, next it was drag as he performed the gay anthem “I Am What I Am”. He wasn’t bad but his light tenor didn’t really do the song justice. Goebel told him he was great but finally gave him a reality check by telling him he was not and never would be a Rusty.

Christina’s gorgeous German version of Aida’s “I Know The Truth” drew Uwe’s best comments so far, which were well justified.

Marcel reached some beautiful high notes with his “Maria”, from West Side Story, and for the first time showed us he could act.

Once again Franziska Forster was the shows highlight with a spine tingling “Maybe this Time”. She isn’t really a good choice for Pearl but is certainly a star in the making.

Kevin Kohler’s choice was somewhat unusual with “Your Song” from Moulin Rouge. Why oh why didn’t he sing something in German? Yet again I felt he sounded uncomfortable.

The final performance was from Anna Maria, who truly impressed me for the first time, with “Gold Von Den Sternen” from Mozart, a show from the same writers as Elisabeth She also proved she could sing and swing at the same time when a swing descended from the flies covered in garlands.

While the votes were placed we finally got to see Rolando Villazon perform an impeccably sung “Impossible Dream”. Following this he was joined by Gottschalk and adopted an extreme Mexican accent for “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life”.  Gottschalk hasn’t got a great voice but he really captured the essence of the show and would be a great addition to any cast of Spamalot.

So the results were finally in. I think Herzog must like his drag make up as he was still wearing it when it came to decision time. Marcel and Christina were first to be eliminated so it was a choice between Herzog and Kevin Kohler for the prize. It was hardly a shock that Kevin won and I am sure that he will make a great Rusty, although I suspect Marcel would have been just as good. Prettier too! Sadly my favourite performer Franziska didn’t get the chance to don her roller skates, but with a good decade on Kevin she may have looked a little odd as his love interest. In the end Anna Maria was really the only option for Pearl so who better to win the role.

With a tear in his eye Kevin joined Anna Maria and finally we got to hear him singing in German, and yes he sounded much more confident, as they sang “Only You” from Starlight. They were joined by a selection of steam trains and carriages with no marriages for a spectacular ending to the competition. I am sure that the German public made the right choice and they will be excellent additions to the cast. The whole thing almost made me want to go to Bochum to see the show for myself.  I strongly suspect that it will have had the same effect Germany wide and should give the show enough of a boost to steam into it’s 21st birthday next year, and well beyond. So three cheers for Kevin and Anna Maria!

Posted on: 2nd May 2008

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