The internet has been a major influence in Susan Boyle’s rapid ascension to success. Her Britain’s Got Talent audition was viewed by more than twenty million people on YouTube and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter were overwhelmed by people discussing the Scottish singer. Today, the virtual world has been abuzz with talk of Boyle again following the cast announcement for I Dreamed A Dream, the upcoming musical based on her life. Elaine C Smith is to play the role of Susan Boyle, who will make a cameo appearance in the show. James Paterson and Karen Mann will play her parents, Ashleigh Gray her childhood friend Lorraine Campbell, and Jeffrey Harmer and Liz Ewing her manager Andy Stephens and school teacher Mrs Johnson respectively. Gordon Cooper, Anne Smith, Frances Mayli McCann and David Haydn will also appear in the production, alongside Alan McHugh who co-wrote the musical with Elaine C Smith. I Dreamed A Dream premieres at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal this month and will tour the UK, visiting Aberdeen, Bradford, Liverpool, Dublin, Bristol, Southend, Cardiff, Birmingham, Inverness and Manchester – I expect it will make its London appearance shortly after.
Boyle’s appeal mainly lies in the contradiction between her voice and appearance. She has been hailed as a perfect example of not judging a book by its cover, with West End star Elaine Paige calling her, ‘a role model for everyone who has a dream’. I, along with many others, still remember that first time she walked onto the BGT stage in front of Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan. Her dowdy appearance triggered a wave of sniggers and rolling of eyes as the audience and judges waited for the apparent inevitability of a truly cringe-worthy performance, and the surprise on everyone’s faces when she opened her mouth and sang has become one of those moments of classic TV gold. It was a great lesson in why you should never judge someone on how they look, something which has untold relevance in our image-obsessed culture of this modern time – still, is that enough to warrant a stage musical?
I think the success that the show has brought her is a wonderful thing: three top-selling albums, national and international tours and numerous television performances have earned her millions and given her the life she dreamed of. She has also proven that talent can be a stronger force than beauty; even if you don’t fit in with the image of the idyll, you can still be successful. As somebody who also has learning difficulties, she has shown those in a similar position that it doesn’t have to limit you in life either. It’s all very admirable and I’d be one of the first to congratulate her for all she has achieved; but I’m sorry, I just don’t ‘get’ the need for a musical. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2010, Boyle herself said that, before stardom found her, her life was ‘mundane’ and ‘routine’. Yes she can sing, but let’s be honest, there are better singers out there and I don’t see anyone making a musical about them. It may be a harsh truth, but if she didn’t look the way she did then it’s unlikely that her star would have taken off the way it did. I’m sure she would have still gone on to find success, but to this extent? Doubtful.
Of course, there is an audience out there for I Dreamed A Dream, I’m not refuting that. Boyle is still extremely popular and there are sure to be a legion of fans racing to the theatre for the show. It is the kind of show however that is capitalising on a current popular trend – I don’t think we’ll be celebrating its anniversary in twenty-five years time. A Susan Boyle documentary? Fine. A Susan Boyle autobiography? Great, why not. A Susan Boyle musical? In my view, it’s just unnecessary. What’s next, Britney Spears the Musical? Madonna the Musical? Or, God forbid, Justin Bieber the Musical? When there are such excellent new musicals as My Land’s Shore out there still waiting for their chance to make it to the stage, I find it rather infuriating that an obviously opportunistic musical like this is given precedence. Just to reiterate, I do wish Boyle and I Dreamed A Dream luck with the tour; I would never deliberately will a show to fail. I simply think there are far more interesting and deserving musicals around which merit more support. Otherwise we might just end up with Jedward the Musical – and that would have to mean my early retirement from the world of theatre.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 1st March 2012