Swedish TV talent show to find Monty Python’s next leading lady

Swedish TV talent show to find Monty Python's next leading lady
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
The producers of hit Monty Python musical 'Spamalot' are turning to Sweden to find the next leading lady for the London show.

The talent search will form the basis of a new TV3 show starting in the autumn called ‘West End Story’.

Open auditions for the role of ‘The Lady of the Lake’ will be held in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, where a panel of experts from the Swedish and British theatre worlds will draw up a shortlist of twelve hopefuls.

Each week one contestant will be voted off the nine-part show until only four remain.

They will be flown from Stockholm to London to begin rehearsals for the role of Lady of the Lake with the cast of Spamalot, returning each week to Sweden to face the judges and viewing public in a live TV special.

The winner will be announced in February 2008.

“The idea came from an experience I had when working on Chicago in the West End and we cast Petra Nielson as Roxie Hart,” producer Crispin Ollington told The Local.

“There was a tangible increase in audience numbers from Sweden. This got me starting to think how just as we use star casting as a way to appeal to different demographics in the UK, you could look at extending this principle outside the UK. Consequently, when Spamalot opened last year there was always a thought in my mind that at some point we would look at the possibility of casting someone from Scandinavia in one of the main roles.”

Ollington and his colleagues turned to Swedish TV supremo Anna Carrfors Bråkenhielm with the concept, which is closely based on the recent British TV success ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria’ – a search for a new Maria in The Sound of Music. Bråkenhielm produced and developed the ground breaking reality TV show “Survivor” almost a decade ago.

“It made sense to explore the idea in Sweden, which is possibly the most mature of the European musicals’ markets. Happily, both TV3 and Anna at Talpa/Silverback saw the potential and with their help we came up with our format of West End Story,” said Ollington.

Directed by Mike Nichols, Monty Python’s Spamalot has won a host of awards. It is “lovingly ripped-off” from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.

Telling the legendary tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and their quest for the Holy Grail, Monty Python’s Spamalot features a chorus line of dancing divas (and serfs), flatulent Frenchmen, killer rabbits and a legless knight.

The role of The Lady of the Lake is not an easy one to perform, according to Crispin Ollington.

“Vocally the part requires an extraordinary range of styles and a huge pair of… lungs,” he jokes.

The hunt for the new ‘Lady of the Lake’ is not Spamalot’s first Scandinavian connection: the show opens in an idyllic Finnish village before the narrator points out that he is talking about England, not Finland.

Sweden is a safe ground for a musical talent show. As well as being one of Europe’s biggest markets for musical theatre, Swedes make over 700,000 visits a year to London with West End shows being a core element of the trip for many.

But will the show transfer to Sweden? Crispin Ollington says that there has been interest in a Swedish production but no dates have been set.

“It will be interesting to see whether the TV show now speeds up this process and indeed whether our Lady of the Lake is the one who comes back to open the show in Sweden,” he said.