Tag Archive | "Susan Boyle"

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The Food of Love: The Age of the Jukebox Musical

Posted on 01 February 2013 by Annabelle Lee


I don’t know about you, but as a music graduate and self-confessed muso, I can’t help but notice the sheer number of jukebox musicals on at the moment. Just pick up a newspaper and look at the weekly theatre listings. Mamma Mia!, We Will Rock You, Jersey Boys, Thriller Live, Rock of Ages, Let It Be, Viva Forever! and currently touring the country, 9 to 5 The Musical (could the creatives not think of a better title?) – you simply can’t escape them. The jukebox musical is certainly something of a twenty-first century phenomenon.

By its very name, the jukebox musical is of the type in which the musical numbers are taken from the back catalogue of a popular artist or group of artists (the above examples I hope speak for themselves). Subsequently, the narrative is usually written around the songs. For instance, when writing the script for the new Spice Girls musical, Viva Forever!, Jennifer Saunders suggested that, “the songs are so well written that they fitted really neatly into a narrative”.

What is it about our culture’s appetite for jukebox musicals today? Our obsession with the popular classics is a fair enough answer, an opportunity to indulge in the hits within the context of musical theatre extravagance. Yet, the main reason that seems to crop up is that of escapist entertainment, the so-called ‘feel-good’ factor. Whatever is distracting us (the gloom of the recession always gets shoved in there by certain theatre representatives and enthusiasts), we want to enjoy the hairbrush or air guitar moments for an evening, with the intention of feeling much better afterwards.

Yet, theatre should be more than just replicating the atmosphere of a gig, more than encouraging the audience to handwave and dance in the aisles. Whilst it may be fun, can’t you experience all of that at a gig or the local club night? When I go to the theatre, I want to be taken on a journey, to feel as I’ve lived the visceral experiences of the characters. You can have stunning sets, costumes and song-and-dance numbers, but if there’s not a compelling narrative or a human element, then the show is simply reduced to a karaoke, a set of chart toppers strung together by tedious links to songs.

What might jukebox musicals do for other genres of musical theatre today? Thank goodness for musicians such as John Wilson and The Piccadilly Dance Orchestra, who have brought the nostalgic, sophisticated sounds of MGM, Hollywood and Broadway deservedly into the twenty-first century. The short-lived Loserville provided a brilliant example of new musical theatre with an original plot and score; something the West End was crying out for. I definitely don’t want my generation to associate musicals with the Spice Girls or, for crying out loud, Susan Boyle.

Of course, there are moments when we need light relief, humour and satisfaction. Additionally, for those new to theatre, the jukebox musical may certainly provide a worthwhile introduction. I just hope that afterwards, newcomers will go on to explore the rich variety of musical theatre, not resorting to the Great Songbook of Take That.

Image: Jukebox01c

Annabelle Lee

Annabelle Lee

Born in Hertfordshire, Annabelle is a graduate from Durham University with an honours degree in Music. She is currently studying for a Master’s in Music at Oxford University and intends to pursue a PhD. She was a Live Blogger for A Younger Theatre at TheatreCraft 2012 and now blogs monthly for A Younger Theatre on the role of music in theatre.

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Review: I Dreamed A Dream – The Susan Boyle Musical

Posted on 28 March 2012 by Laura Turner

It’s not often that you go to see a musical knowing the subject matter but having  no idea what to expect. As with other new musicals based on well-known stories (think Tony! The Blair Musical; Shrek; Matilda The Musical), the question was: how would the production make the story of Susan Boyle’s rise to success interesting, original and entertaining?

With difficulty, is the answer. The challenge, then, was to make the story we all think we know from Facebook, Twitter and the tabloids unpredictable and exciting. Instead, I Dreamed A Dream offers a blow-by-blow account of Boyle’s life from birth to the present day, charting her Blackburn upbringing and relying almost exclusively on material the audience already knows. There are some touching stories of first dates, karaoke contests and personal battles, especially with Boyle’s first (and apparently only) boyfriend John and some early scenes in the Boyle family home where our protagonist first learnt the power of song. Real joy buzzes amongst the retro wallpaper and swinging tunes of the ’60s, bringing the predominantly black-box set alive with James Paterson and Karen Mann’s stunning vocals as Boyle’s parents. Some moments are pleasantly reminiscent of Billy Elliot the Musical. Regrettably, these are fleeting in a musical that manages to transform a truly moving real life story into a sadly uninspiring tale about the difficulties of fame.

If the source material is familiar, there should still be scope for originality in its telling . However, the show is narrated throughout by a fictional Boyle, played by co-writer Elaine C. Smith. Her singing voice is markedly different from Boyle’s childlike melodies, though she does capture Boyle in her speech patterns, whilst hinting at something more. Any role representing a living person on stage is not without its difficulties, but Smith maintains an admirable respect for Boyle throughout, which doesn’t shy away from Boyle’s temper, paranoia and bouts of depression. The script’s jokes and asides to the audience are amusing enough, but direct address soon becomes a rather one-dimensional and claustrophobic way to tell the story.

The ensemble cast do their best with what they’ve got, but some of the short interludes are memorable for all the wrong reasons. One scene, a fusion of rock music and balletic dance to visualise Boyle’s struggle with bullies, loses sight of the sorrowful resonances of a young girl who feels completely alone in the world amongst grungy panto-villain bullies bopping atop industrial-looking crates. Perhaps part of the problem is the lack of original songs in this production. It relies heavily on the music Boyle grew up with, which works early on to set the scene as Boyle wins the Whitburn miners’ club talent competition. However, later renditions of Stuck in the Middle With You as Boyle waits in the BGT queue and Mad World (as fame stifles her) fail to entertain or advance the storytelling effectively.

What could be achieved in a moment, a look or a word is dragged out into endless set pieces. Less would undoubtedly be more here – the script could easily do without the large-scale production and would perhaps work better as a one-woman show. The main problem is that things simply don’t feel like they matter. There is no jeopardy, no conflict; it feels like there is nothing at stake. In short, there is no drama. As Smith highlights in her closing speech, I Dreamed A Dream is Susan Boyle’s story: a story that has a start and a middle, but no end yet. True, perhaps, as Boyle is still entertaining millions worldwide, but on stage this just doesn’t work. An audience needs conclusion, resolution and satisfaction, and there is none to be found.

Thank heavens, then, for Boyle herself. An immediate standing ovation and rapturous applause as soon she appears on stage; she is clearly the most important reason why people are flocking to see this show. Never before has Boyle’s cherubic halo shone brighter or her voice resonated more clearly than in the wake of such bland disappointment.

I Dreamed A Dreamed is at the Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday 31 March and then continues its international tour until the end of May, stopping at venues across the UK such as the Liverpool Empire, Bristol Hippodrome, Manchester Palace and Birmingham Hippodrome. For more information and to book tickets, visit the I Dreamed A Dream Official website.

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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