If you aren't familiar with the story of Susan Boyle - the middle-aged Scot who, in 2009, stunned the Britain's Got Talent judges with her powerful singing voice – well, you may have been living under a rock for the past three years. Following her debut, Boyle became an overnight sensation, releasing two chart-topping albums and dominating the international media landscape. This month, she adds another feather to her cap – as the subject her very own musical. I Dreamed a Dream: The Susan Boyle Musical fills in the gaps of Boyle's public biography to tell a very human story about dreams and perseverance.
The tale is a guided tour through the singer's life, both before and after her rise to fame, which unfolds through a series of interconnected monologues, songs, and vignettes. The score is comprised of familiar oldies, showtunes, and church hymns from Boyle's canon, many of which are sung in snippets or interspersed with dialogue, lending a well-paced flow to the action. Along the way, we learn of Boyle's medical troubles as an infant, her doomed teenage romance, and how sometimes, no matter how talented you are, life just gets in the way of your dreams.
Scottish actress Elaine C. Smith, who also co-wrote the show's book, makes for a sweet and likeable leading lady. She is both sassy and humble, with a singing voice that is good, if not quite up to Boyle's standard. The multi-faceted ensemble also does well to portray the variety of personalities from Boyle's past and present.
Despite its subject matter's potential for cheesiness, I Dreamed a Dream is surprisingly down to earth and feels like an honest tribute to Boyle's journey, rather than merely a leap onto the SuBo bandwagon. For the most part, the show is light and funny, with plenty of jibes about life in small-town Scotland and the singer's initially frumpy image. Yet attention is also paid to the darker side of Boyle's sudden stardom – the intense pressure to live up to her own hype, and the news media that relentlessly chronicled her every move. This is emphasized in the television-themed set design and the sound cues of a persistent knocking on Boyle's door, something which hounds the singer throughout the two acts.
It's all worth it though when Susan Boyle (that's the real Susan Boyle) takes the stage post curtain call to the resounding cheers of her fans. You forget until you hear her live just how impressive Boyle's voice really is. It's an inspiring reminder that, whatever else, raw talent is what made Susan Boyle a star…and will likely keep her one for a long time to come.
I Dreamed a Dream plays the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre April 24th – 28th.