10 set to solve the problem of Maria
It's anybody's guess now who will be Maria.
The young women chosen by British producer Andrew Lloyd Webber as the best potential stars for a Toronto production of The Sound of Music were introduced in Toronto on Tuesday.
As they gave a spirited performance of the song How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria at the CBC broadcasting centre, it was clear they all had talent.
"Any single one of them could be Maria," said Elaine Overholt, their vocal coach and one of three judges, along with actor John Barrowman, star of Torchwood, and conductor Simon Lee, who will help shape the young women for the role.
The list of contestants has been whittled down over the past few weeks from 48 potential Marias, who attended "Maria School" where they were coached in singing and acting.
Ranging in age from 19 to 29, the contestants come from across Canada and have a variety of experience and training in musical theatre.
All are in the spotlight now as they vie for the role of Maria through CBC reality TV show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?
"It's not a talent competition because all these girls are talented enough to play Maria," said Barrowman. "It's just a competition to choose the right Maria."
Barrowman said the Canadian contestants have "a little more edge" than the British contestants in the BBC version of the competition two years ago.
Some like Jayme Armstrong, 25, of Richmond, B.C., have extensive performance experience. She began performing at age five, took part in a U.S. tour of Forever Swing at age 18, has appeared on stage at Stratford and most recently performed in White Christmas.
"What I struggled with initially was I was really conscious about how I would be perceived on camera," she told CBC News.
Like many of the contestants, she was nervous that a reality TV competition would be difficult, with critical judges and differences between the contestants played up.
Instead, she found constructive criticism — and some real compliments from Lloyd Webber himself.
"He told me I was an intelligent actress and performer," she said. "All the judges really are interested in teaching you."
Armstrong learned all the music before she qualified for one of the top spots and now is concentrating on her performance.
"I felt it is important to put myself into the role," she said. "Julie Andrews was the iconic Maria von Trapp, so I'm trying to perform it, not as an imitation but a real performance with some of me in it."
Kyla Tingley, 24, of Dartmouth, N.S., earned a spot in the top 10 although she has no recent professional theatre experience.
Tingley was nominated for an East Coast Music Award with her band The Chronicles, but hasn't performed in musical theatre for nearly three years.
"I had to remember back to what I learned about musical theatre. Maria School was great for that," she said.
Tingley got some surprising criticism from the judges, who told her her eyes were lifeless.
"It was hard to hear, but I don't want to look like a zombie on stage or for the camera," she said, describing how she worked on her eyes in front of the mirror.
Janna Polzin, 24, was her roommate in Maria School and they worked together on making their eyes stand out on stage.
Polzin says she prepared for the role by doing some research into the real Maria von Trapp, a woman who raised nine children and ushered them over the mountains out of reach of the Nazis.
"There are definite strong characteristics of the real woman — she was firm, stern. But the world knows Maria von Trapp as Julie Andrews. You have find some middle ground between them."
Polzin says she started out interested in visual arts, until she was lured into singing and joined an acting troupe in her hometown of Woodstock, Ont.
"The techniques of being on stage are different from being on TV," she said. "I was nervous about being before the cameras all the time."
The other contestants for the role of Maria are:
- Tamara Fifield, 21, of Truro, N.S. , who is trained as an opera singer.
- Allie Hughes, 22, of Toronto, a singer-performer who is member of a band in Toronto.
- Alison Jutzi, 29, of Guelph, Ont., now based in Toronto, who has recorded a CD, Sandals.
- Katie Kerr, 19, of Windsor, Ont. , who is a vocal student at University of Windsor.
- Donna Lajeunesse, 22, of Bowmanville, Ont., a professional dog groomer who has appeared on stage as Nancy in Oliver!
- Elicia MacKenzie, 23, of Vancouver, B.C.,who trained in theatre at Capilano College.
- Marisa McIntyre, 25, of Waterloo, Ont. , who played Sophie for two years in Mamma Mia!
The winner takes on the role of Maria in a Mirvish production of The Sound of Music to begin this fall in Toronto.
Beginning Sunday, the top 10 will give a live performance on CBC-TV'sHow Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? trying to impress viewers with their abilities.
Canadians can vote for their favourite Maria online, via phone or text message.