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Susan Boyle ‘dreamed a dream’ – but is it time to wake up?

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



  • MissJulie

    Julie is a theatre enthusiast, and is particularly keen on new writing. She writes articles each week for our website including a popular weekly ‘In Profile’ which features actors and actresses that are not in lead roles and are often in the Ensemble.

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22 thoughts on “Susan Boyle ‘dreamed a dream’ – but is it time to wake up?”

  1. Perhaps you would not be so hasty to decide that “there are far more interesting and deserving musicals around which merit more support” if you actually knew what this musical is all about. It is not about Susan Boyle, the internet star; it is about a woman who was born into a large family in times of economic hardship, who was bullied and judged “different” in school; who worked for years to be accepted; who, despite little encouragement, went about honing a craft she knew to be her calling. It is about faith, determination, and courage, and ultimate triumph. If that doesn’t merit more support, I don’t know what does. It is always a good thing to actually know the content and performance of a show before pre-judging. Isn’t that one of the lessons the story of Susan Boyle teaches?

  2. Let’s wait until the musical IDAD premiers and then we’ll see if Susan’s story is interesting and deserving enough to be told. How can any musical or play be critiqued before the fact? Unless said critic is psychic. Just as the audience and judges on BGT in April 09 were so capable of predicting how Susan’s audition would turn out.

  3. Why NOT a musical!.. What better story could you have? Afterall, Cinderella is still read and loved today and THIS one is true . It IS necessary because we need it and want it. At least 80 people from Texas USA alone, will be attending the opening night. Can you think of another Musical opening in England that can say that. Why don’t you see it before you make any comments. Susan Boyle is an inspiration and every young woman should see it.

  4. Your referring to Susan Boyle as “current popular trend” is IMO out of tune. The musical IDAD is more than fitting, Susan is much more than a contestant on BGT who stole our hearts and wowed the world with her incredible voice, her courage to never give up and keep “dreaming” despite disappointments is a lesson young and old will appreciate and her endurance of life will give a lift to everyone. Susan’s appeal is much more than music although IMO she is the “greatest female voice” ever, an international treasure, and a legend in her own time, all achieved by just being Susan.

  5. Some who have not kept up with Susan following the BGT might be led to agree with you, however those who have read her autobiography (yes, “The Woman I Was Born To Be” was published and a best seller out the door) and have seen Susan Boyle around the world, a bit “brushed up” and hardly worthy of judgment of “looks vs. talent” as a reason for her draw. This musical has been judged extremely worthy of its place on the stages of Great Britain and beyond by experts in the real world of theater. Hoping it gets to America. Elaine C. Smith is amazing as is Susan Boyle and the team that is bringing us this gem. Thanks!

  6. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but it’s acceptable to judge a musical before you’ve seen it? Am I’m missing something here?

  7. In my opinion, so many people in the professional entertainment industry try to diminish Susan Boyle because she is not “one of them.” She is to be patted on the head for her interesting audition, but then sent on her way. Because she is an “outsider” they believe she does not deserve to have her talent recognized. You can see this clearly is her exclusion from most award nominations and from comments such as the ones made by Ms. Robinson. Frankly, Ms. Robinson does not seem to understand that most great stories/plays/musicals are so wonderful because they are about COMMON people doing the most UNCOMMON, as did Susan in the audition and as she continues to do by having THREE number one albums. No, Susan’s talent is not for everyone, just as any talented musician has a specific fan base. However, Susan has a devoted fan base made up not of screaming teenyboppers or those ready for the latest fad, but a fan base of mature, thoughtful, reflective adults (and many youth) who appreciate the talent and goodness of a wonderful, talented woman who can serve as a positive role-model for anyone. Why not celebrate the wonderful aspects of Susan Boyle instead of trying to diminish them. (By the way Susan fans, I’ll see you at the 25-year anniversary of the Susan Boyle Musical, “I Dreamed a Dream”!!!)

  8. Looking at the previous comments posted, I seem to be in a minority in agreeing with Miss Julie. Susan Boyle clearly has a dedicated fanbase, and I don’t think that anyone would begrudge her the recording and performing success that she has enjoyed in recent years. Whether or not there are ‘better singers out there’ is obviously a matter of personal taste. (On that point, I happen to agree with Miss Julie – that there are better singers around. That is my personal view and I am entitled to it.) I do not actually object to a musical being made about her life, since theatre needs to cater to a wide range of different tastes. I am not particularly attracted by the prospect of the show however, and in all likelihood I will never go to see it. And I do wonder if it will have sufficiently broad appeal to guarantee a long run. People often buy a CD as a bit of a ‘punt’. Theatre tickets usually cost considerably more and people make serious choices about what shows to see. So again, I find myself agreeing with Miss Julie about its potential longevity.

  9. What a silly blog post. The reason THIS musical is being produced is because people want to see it. A month ahead of opening night 75% of available tickets have been sold. They’re already planning the US and Canadian tours.

  10. I want to address one thing in this article. Susan Boyle was not successful because of the way she looked. The musical will explain why she looked that way. She is successful because she has an outstanding voice that moves people. She has not looked that way since the audition, and she is still selling millions of cd’s and remains one of the most popular singers in the world. People relate to her because she is human, and she does not put on a lot of phony showbusiness foolishness. It was not the way she looked in the audition. It was the in your face defiance of the judges and audience attitude, as well as all the past rejections. She was no pathetic little weenie that people felt sorry for. They prejudged her based on her look and her age, and they immeditely chastised themselves when they heard how fantastic she was. She represented a modest but strong older woman who is ready to fight it out for her place in the music world based on her ability to sing her way into people’s minds and hearts. It has taken a lot of courage and determination for her to keep doing the things she needs to in order to make recordings and sing for audiences – even when she looks gorgeous, as she does most of the time.
    If you don’t get it, you don’t get it, but I am tired of people saying she was successful because of the way she looked. She hasn’t looked like that since the audition itself, and she is still winning listeners and hearts. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you look like-good or bad-if you can sing the way Susan Boyle does. Don’t sell her short. Her ability, her personality and her determination and courage are the reason for her success, and why she is loved by everyone who meets her from Simon Cowell to the schoolkids who run into her in the shopping mall.

  11. I don’t think there was anything in Miss Julie’s article that was in any way disrespectful or deprecating to Susan Boyle – she was simply advocating that in her opinion producing a musical about Miss Boyle is perhaps misguided. And I have to agree with her. I also do not assert that Miss Boyle’s story is not inspiring and moving – but I do question the need for a musical about her. In the current climate where it is close to impossible for NEW ORIGINAL writing to surface on the mainstream musical theatre stage, the major stumbling block is the preponderance of contrived musicals about celebrities. It is this trend that both Miss Julie and I find very worrying because it threatens the existence of creativity in musical theatre.

    And let’s be real here – this musical is not happening because of the producers’ belief in the inspiring story of Susan Boyle triumphing over adversity – it is happening because they see it as a means to earning a “cheap buck”. And they are actually being more mocking and exploitive of Susan Boyle than anyone ever has been before.

  12. Susan’s so called fan base don’t understand anything at all about a musical or fanbase or CD sales. They expected her last CD 2 sell between 5 and 6 million when it only sold 1.2 million and dropped from most charts after 3 months since the release date. So going from 10M sales for a 1st album 2 just over 1M for her 3rd shows about how strong her fanbase really is.
    I would give the show 5 years at Max.

  13. “What’s next, Britney Spears the Musical? Madonna the Musical? Or, God forbid, Justin Bieber the Musical?”

    I totally agree with you Miss Julie,I find it appalling that musicals based on celebrities such as ABBA,Buddy Holly,The Rat Pack,Queen and Frankie Valli should be staged in our theatres.Where’s the originality ?
    Les Miserables,Phantom Of The Opera,Cats,Dirty Dancing,(nothing new there).
    Bring on the new wave of British Musicals.

  14. The debate about whether there are better singers or not is pointless. There are undoubtedly technically better singers out there, perhaps many. But none of them touch my heart when I listen to them. Susan does. If other singers reach you more, that’s fine. Music is subjective. So is theatre-going. Who determines whether there is a “need” for a certain kind of play or musical? Until you have seen it, why prejudge? Why not wait and see how it fares?

    No, Ms. Robinson is not being disrespectful, and I appreciate that. Some commenters here are simply disagreeing with the premises of her blog theme. To Bob, however, I would say first that the producers of this play are not being exploitative. You have no basis whatsoever to claim that. And second, please tell me what producer of a play does not do it to make a profit. Was your favorite musical a charity operation, produced solely for love of the arts? Please.

  15. I encourage you AND JULIE to spend one DAY on Twitter. Search for Susan Boyle and then read one hour’s worth of tweets from around the world about Susan.

    You will barely be able to stomach the cruelty simply because she doesn’t have the “body” of a goddess or is over 25 AND that she is “weird” because she is still a virgin.

    Most of these morons have never looked past the BGT Video to even begin to see how far she has COME. Many times I do wonder just how much people in this world really HAVE learned the lesson about “NOT JUDGING A BOOK BY ITS COVER”. Not according to the sick and twisted millions of tweets I see. THEN go look at the Youtube Comments on many of Susan’s Videos.

    I’ve been monitoring these for nearly 3 years. She has 54 songs on there, but without anyone really caring to do the research or look past the BGT VID few would even know that

    However, then faith begins to be restored, when I see massive amounts of comments written in every language under the sun and translate them, only to discover a gift, that is so hidden to all the “know it all” writers, music critics, industry whiz’s etc, that being of, HOW one little 50 yr old woman from Scotland can be understood so well, just by her incredible and phenomenal voice , by MILLIONS who DON’T SPEAK or read English.

    Contrary to Julie’s opinions VERY, VERY, VERY FEW artists in this world have that ability and it is such a gift that DOES make her one of the BEST SINGERS in the world. I’d even stretch it to say THE best.
    After all, someone has to be.

    That isn’t an “opinion”. It’s a FACT. READ THE COMMENTS ON YOUTUBE TO SEE and HEAR it for yourself .

    All these “non-English” speaking folks don’t just UNDERSTAND, they are also AFFECTED by her voice and “Susan”- just as much as ENGLISH speaking, in the same ways and sometimes even more. THAT’S PROFOUND and CONFOUNDING. THE WORLD SIMPLY HAS NEVER ENCOUNTERED THIS BEFORE. SUSAN is NOT simply one on an assembly line, like all the others and never was meant to be.

    Then ……..I hear about ADELE & yet I sit in frustration, because I know the truth that the majority does not. The only reason she GOT the numbers and accolades that she did, was because, her “label” chose to work even harder to get her on RADIO all round the world….. and for months, that is all folks HEARD on the radio on every station, was ADELE.

    WHERE WAS SUSAN??? Hidden away. Because her own label never worked harder to get HER voice heard on the Radio and RADIO execs shrugged off Susan cause she didn’t fit their own “stereo-types” of “Cool”. SUSAN IS VERY, VERY RARELY HEARD ON THE RADIO! Believe me, hundreds of letters have gone out by regular fans to Radio Execs pushing to get Susan on the RADIO. DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER? REALLY? RADIO DOESNT SEEM TO HAVE HEARD THAT MESSAGE.

    All Susan’s cd sales came because of YOUTUBE, not RADIO where she has been excluded, cast-out, ignored and ‘trivialized”. Even simple RARE fan song requests are ignored.

    Ironically though, when the very rare moments come, that she IS played on some radio station, people stop in their tracks. “WHO IS THIS? AM I GOING TO HEAVEN? One fellow nearly crashed into a tree upon hearing WILD HORSES for the first time. I SEE IT IN THE VERY FEW RARE TWEETS!

    The only way that people can even hear or KNOW of Susan now, is through YOUTUBE.

    If she HAD the RADIO EXPOSURE of Adele, believe me she would have the same kind of numbers with her THIRD cd that she did with her FIRST one and she DESERVES and has earned the RIGHT to get the same kind of RADIO EXPOSURE as all the other big name artists of the day, but the public is being deprived, by the “powers that be” that control everything.

    Then after all that, I READ A few “glib” shallow “blurted out ” words in the title of an article “SHOULD WE ALL WAKE UP” as though one woman is trying to send a message to the WHOLE WORLD ( including the millions whom don’t speak ENGLISH) because SHE has determined it so, that Susan is of little significance and we should all move on to much better singers and her story has no real worth or merit. IGNORANCE!

    SHE has NO IDEA and never cared to DO one iota of RESEARCH before she furiously put pen to paper. Her words were an INSULT to the MILLONS of NON ENGLISH speaking people of the world whom ARE so deeply affected by Susan’s voice and SUSAN and her STORY , even though they don’t always understand the words of the songs !

    I REITERATE “: A MUCH BETTER STORY to tell the world would be the one I’ve shared above. A more HIDDEN one that takes RESEARCH, not a few off the cuff opinions.

    Another example of Julie’s lack of awareness, is that there suddenly has been an AWAKENING to the Original BGT VID of 2009.

    I can’t explain it, it just ‘appeared” one day and has spread like a wildfire, though I have no idea of its primary source that started the wildfire. On Jan 4th 2012, a “hidden” BGT VID COPY “mysteriously” appeared, that CANT EVEN BE FOUND UNDER “SUSAN BOYLE” ON YOUTUBE, called

    On that date, there had been just shy of 4,000,000 hits on it.

    SINCE that date, somehow sooooo many COUNTRIES have been exposed to it, tweeted and FB’d furiously and increasingly .

    Where it came from, where it started from is a complete mystery. Its left many Susan fans baffled but delighted over this “re-awakening”.

    What has been the most amazing and “profound’ is that the majority of the Tweets and even the comments posted on this particular one, are MOSTLY NON ENGLISH!!

    JAN 4th it was at just shy of 4,000,000. Today is March 4 & its now at 22.9 MILLION.

    This doesn’t include the Youtube pages and pages and pages of COPIES of this now historical BGT AUDITION video in every subtitled language you can imagine, with all hits accumulated, plus the ORIGINAL that got taken down at 96 MILLION hits in one year, well in the ball park of HALF A BILLION hits , which only get added to, at least every 2 minutes.

    A DREAM WE SHOULD ALL WAKE UP FROM / NOT SIGNIFICANT? YES…… I DO WANT THE WORLD TO HEAR WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN ‘BLIND” TO because they were not aware…. and I truly do hope someone exposes the Truth to the world about how unfairly Susan has been treated by the RADIO INDUSTRY.

    Bear in mind please, the difference between Susan and other artists is her AGE. Few, if any singers actually BEGIN their career in middle age. There are millions of YOUNGER singers or even wanna be younger singers. The ones whom ARE Susan’s age are the LEGENDS whom have been doing this thousands of times, whom WERE once young.

    Susan is in a “niche” all her own. She is either criticized for not being as “polished” as the LEGENDS of her age, or laughed at for daring to stand amongst all the YOUNGER singers.

    We’re all supposed to “move on” to a barn-load of YOUNGER singers, which is what the MAJORITY of them are (because THATS the REALITY of the MUSIC INDUSTRY), or else simply be content to listen to the “polished” Legends , but pay no attention and forget about Susan? Please think again!

  16. The quicker Susan Boyle fans learn that her first album sales where a 1offffff the better it will be for them because it’s not going to happen ever again. She’e nothing more than a cover artist.

  17. OMG, the person who wrote this obviously is not a fan of Susan. You don’t know how much she has been through. Susan is like female Forrest Gump. She was badly bullied, people used to make fun of her, and some still do. I say the musical will give the world a message, don’t ever make fun of people with disabilities. People could do something with their lives if they keep trying, never give up on themselves.
    To the writer of this article, please try to learn more about a person before you criticize her. Be happy for someone with a disability has finally achieved her dream.

  18. I do not know who is “missjulie” , but I very WELL know, who is SUSAN BOYLE.

    ….and that would have to mean my early retirement from the world of theatre. – FIRST see the musical and then do a comment….

  19. Dear people leaving comments,

    This is just a blog, with somebody´s opinion. She is not criticising anybody but giving her OPINION. Everybody has the right to express their views. And she is not commenting on the musical as obviously she has not seen it. She is just giving her opinion! (Just in case I was not clear)

    My opinion: I agree with her as although I support new musicals, I do not think this one is original, but one based on a person who has been exploited since her appearance in BGT.

  20. Whats she been through? Working at Tesco? yeah that’s really tough. There are so many talented musicians and composers writing wonderful musicals and never get backed why should she? she has an alright voice but I’ve heard better. That’s my opinion take it or leave it. sorry.

  21. @Alister: she hasn’t worked at Tesco or anywhere else for that matter – the local employers know her so well… just sayin…

    For anyone who is questioning whether she “deserves” to be the subject of a musical – did Richard Nixon “deserve” to be the subject of an opera (“Nixon in China”)?? That’s entirely beside the point. In the right hands, any subject can be made into a good show or even a classic. In the case of I Dreamed a Dream, there is video of a bit of the rehearsal, and the dialogue is dire; I’d be very surprised if the critics give it the thumbs-up. On the plus side, I suppose it will be family-friendly, and thus draw in a new generation of musical-theatre-goers. If I had tickets, I’d skip the first hour and a half, and slip in for the grand finale – it would be worth the price of admission just to hear Subo.

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