Way Off Broadway, episode 1: Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore
Way Off Broadway, Episode 1
Here’s the premise of Bravo’s Way Off Broadway: 21 amateur actors, eight weeks of rehearsal, one final performance. The production: The Wizard of Oz. Many adults still harbour the childhood dream of seeing their name in lights, so director Sarina Condello leads a group of Toronto randoms to musical theatre micro-stardom. This isn’t an elimination-based competition, since participants are chosen prior to filming—after trust exercises, voice lessons and a whole lot of tears, Sarina will cast each of the 21 hopefuls. The aspiring Broadway performers include dentists, students and grandmothers who think they can sing, dance and act, or at least want to try (instantly relatable). First things first, let’s address what you’re all probably thinking: we’ve never heard of Sarina either. We don’t know if she has the Fosse factor, but she does have quite the resumé. In a church basement on the Danforth, Sarina—who reminds us of a post-therapy Dr. Erica Strange on a new career path—is directing (nay, transforming) these local hopefuls (most haven’t set foot on a stage in years, or, like, ever) for a finale episode one-night-only performance of one of the most storied musicals of all time. Can she do it? Does this ragtag group of amateurs have what it takes to be on Broadway? We follow their journey after the jump.
The first episode of WOB suggests that the show is designed to be tooth-achingly sweet and Oprah-level inspirational, so let’s give everyone a hand just for showing up. The cast selection process is no more than a series of screen tests (to determine TV worthiness, duh), but who will play which role in the big show won’t be determined until next week. That will happen after this week’s first meeting, referred to as an “unconventional audition.” It’s like the first day of ninth grade and first period just happens to be drama: surprise, you’re all actors now! Especially unfortunate are the icebreakers, the first of which Sarina introduces as “passing the clap; catch the clap.” (We’re not making this up.) Then everyone just sort of jumps around and attempts to get over the initial awkwardness of singing off-key in front of strangers.
Everyone seems to come with honourable intentions, but the claws come out when Sarina pits people against each other for lead roles. Case in point: the sing-off for the coveted role of Dorothy between the Rachel Berrys young gals of the group: fresh-faced 22-year-old architecture student Siobhán; 28-year-old Rebecca, still not over playing a tree in a grade school production of Snow White, with her best friend in the title role; and 28-year-old LeeAnne, who has a great voice but needs to know that the claim “I grew up singing in church” does not give you any cred. Some favourites eventually emerge from the talent pool: Sandra, a 47-year-old contracts manager, who reminds us of AbFab’s Jennifer Saunders and has that wicked-witch cackle on lock; Jodi, a 31-year-old daycare wrangler, who gives us her best Daria-esque monotone; and 54-year-old failed politician Bernie, who just wants to try something new and get your vote in the process.
Jon, 27, psychiatry resident. He’s always done what his parents wanted, following the yellow-brick road to med school while his other interests were perpetually “denigrated.” Now he’s following his own dreams.
Shuyuan, 65, retired. She’s cooler than Yoko Ono and looks like Madonna will 10 years from now. Plus, her attempt at “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is inspiring to say the least. She’s a star at 65 (we should be so lucky).
Taz, 45, health administrator. Girlfriend shows up to her first rehearsal in a skirt. She’s irrationally insecure and self-deprecating, fishing for compliments by saying stuff like “I’m letting you down.” As annoying as she is, it’s all in her plan to capture the audience’s attention.