At Dorothy Farm this week, the top 20 contestants remaining in CBC's Over the Rainbow were put through their paces enduring what has become a gruelling week for the young hopefuls. The show is searching for a lead for the Mirvish production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Wizard of Oz musical. They'll sing for the Lord himself later this week.
Approaching Dorothy Farm (complete with barns, a goat shed, hay bales and animals running free), the idyllic setting certainly didn't lend itself to hard work the girls would face there. They went through further vocal coaching with Jeannie Wyse and faced rigorous dance training - some for the first time - with Sean Cheesman, a man that cuts an intimidating figure. Just so you know, Cheesman was one of the dancers (in the grey shirt and leather jacket) in Michael Jackson's Bad video, and went on to choreograph his sister Janet among many others.
Check out our Dorothy Farm photo gallery:
Daryn Jones, host of the show, was on hand too, shooting segments between getting to know the contestants. As a testament to the setting he suggested I "go for a wander. Find yourself. Write a poem." As well as Daryn, we spoke with Cheesman and Wyse:
On Dorothy Farm:
Daryn Jones: It's been amazing. On the first day, the girls came in - they had no idea what to expect - they met Sean the choreographer and Jeannie the vocal coach and they were a little wowed and excited by the spectacle of what we're doing here. And then they had to learn their choreography. Then they had Jeannie with vocals tearing apart their performances and teaching them different techniques. It's been interesting to see the transformation from wide-eyed young women coming here. They're starting to really nail their performances.
Sean Cheesman: It's really coming along very well. This is our third day, and each day is a huge jump. Today's another huge jump - we've got some talented girls!
Jeannie Wyse: Some larger jumps for some, but I would say every single person has taken a step forward. Some of them a lot of leaps, but it's intense. They're doing it in front of their peers and that's a nasty learning curve for such youngsters.
On the Dorothys:
DJ: They won their way into the top 20, they're flown to Toronto, it's showbiz - or what they imagine showbiz to be - and now I think it's dawning on a few of them that... okay, there's a lot of work that goes into the final product. And if you wanna win you've got to put the work in!
Dorothy Farm is a great opportunity for me to get to know them, because the further down the line they go, we're going to be going down this journey together. It's fun to see them gel right now, they're a big happy family. They're friendly, they support each other and it's all love and fun. But, you know, at the end of the day it's a competition and only one can win. It will be interesting to see how that plays into things.
SC: I think I scare the living daylights out of them! For some, having to move is completely foreign. But they are definitely learning a lot in a short period of time, how to think as a dancer. You have to think of everything at once, not just what the step is, but what the mood of the step is, what the shoulder's doing when the foot's moving this way... they're getting a crash course in being a dancer. It was a slow beginning, but once they got over those nerves...
JW: Bless them. It's not rocket science, but it's stuff they don't know yet. When you show them some of the ideas about technique or how to approach it as an actor, they think it's magic at this stage. It's part of the process, it's part of the discipline. If they can use those tools as they go forward, they'll find the process becomes easier and they can put their stamp on it at the same time.
On the competition:
DJ: I think they're well aware that, now more than ever, the prize is the point of this. The prize is to find who is Dorothy. Who can do eight shows a week? Who can hit the stage and carry a Mirvish production on their shoulders? I think it was a vague idea coming into this, but now it comes down to who actually wants it and who's going to put the work in.
The live shows are going to be so much fun. I can't wait for that. September 16 we launch. Live orchestra, I've heard! It's a big ol' band! Big group numbers, big singing, all in front of a live audience. That's very much theatre. If there are miscues, if there are things that go wrong... that happens in theatre every night and that's part of being a professional; identifying these mistakes, bringing them into your performance and rolling with it. I can't wait for that, it's going to be a lot of fun.
On the first three days:
Alessandra: It's been so exciting. We've done so much in such a short period of time, we're working so hard but every single moment's been so much fun. Getting to work with Jeannie and Sean - everybody - is such an honour. We've all been making the most of it.
On what was in store:
Michelle B: I had kind of an idea... it's been pretty tough but it definitely has to be that tough for us to succeed and get to the level I know we can all be at. It's just been really fun more than anything though. I'm having a blast!
Jessie: Once we got here, we didn't really have time for nerves. It's so fast paced that you just kind of forget about everything and you just focus on what you have to do. We're all tired, but we need to keep going. Because it's so fast though, we keep up with it and we support each other which is the best part. I was nervous coming into it not knowing how the other girls were going to be. We've just turned into a family though, the girls are so supportive. It's probably the most comforting thing, because we all really trust each other too. It's a really good environment and that's what makes this so great - the girls.
On working with Sean and Jeannie:
All the girls: Oh my God. Intense. Terrifying. Amazing.
Michelle B: Sean is one of my idols. You see him on SYTYCD, he's choreographed the Jacksons... it's ridiculous that we get to work with him!
Alessandra: Jeannie is like a magician when it comes to your voice. She knows your body, she knows exactly what point you need to fix - and there are a lot of notes! You have to be able to take constructive criticism and fix it right away. Everybody, so far, has been doing that.
Michelle B: There's no time to get down on yourself, there's no point. You just have to keep going.
On the group:
Michelle B: It's a wide variety of experience. We all have something to bring to the table. It doesn't mean someone's better than the other...
Jessie: There's a really good balance. It's nice to have people around you that are similar, that are close to your age but also maturity level. We're all pushing... I'm pushing myself every day more and more and because of that we each make each other grow. We can see that everybody's wanting it.
Alessandra: It's incredible actually, the amount of growth that we've all witnessed, just over the last three days.