What can we reasonably expect from the people we go and see on stage?

It’s a subject that’s been on my mind recently, since curiosity got the better of me and I went to see I Dreamed A Dream, the Susan Boyle musical, which is obviously not your usual SevenStreets fayre. But it got me thinking all the same.

Boyle was scheduled – but never guaranteed – a cameo appearance at the end, and, as the tour continues, seems to be picking and choosing whether to bother on a nightly basis. As she was papped outside Liverpool tourist destinations during her stay but did not fulfil all her duties at the Empire, it was hard to say what reason there could possibly have been for her no-shows.

Is there ever any excuse for just not turning up?

The show, the story of Boyle’s incredible rise to international fame via Britain’s Got Talent, is generally hackneyed and forgettable (despite some great reviews). But if you’re waiting for the woman of the hour, there are alarm bells throughout.

It covers its back to some extent by having the character of her manager recall to the audience the time the singer became so upset ahead of a live performance, because he was such a nice guy, he told her she didn’t have to go on if she didn’t want to. This seemed at once like a dreadful omen as much as an insurance policy in case she hadn’t turned up to guest star in her own show.

I appreciate there’s lots we don’t know. The effects of Boyle’s learning difficulties have to be taken into account; and yes, I’m sure the anxiety of stage fright is no joke. But then, there’s rumours of diva behaviour; and there’s the responsibility to the fans that have paid good money in the hope of seeing you sing. What entertainer would underestimate the importance of that?

Even Axl Rose, who plays the Echo Arena later this month, has the good sense to turn up to his own gigs eventually. Waiting for Guns n’ Roses until you’ve half a mind to cut your losses and bugger off home is practically part of the experience.

And it’s experience, or a lack of it, that could be the problem for today’s overnight sensations.
“In almost any other genre of performance, the people who have got to the top, even if you don’t like them, have done it by repeating what they do over and over again, nearly always on a small, anonymous scale and it gets bigger as time goes by,” explains Liverpool-based actor and musician Mike Neary.

“This can happen quickly, but never before has somebody found themselves with the responsibility of absolute top flight stamina – bear in mind the ticket prices, touring schedule, audience size – with no clue of what anything other than a quick fix involves. The weird thing about Susan Boyle and other quick fix stars is that they have already had the prize before the game is up.”

Angie Waller is an actress and singer who performs with comedy groups Impropriety and Clittingham Avenue among others. “As a performer it’s very insulting for people who aren’t in the trade to think that what we do is easy and that anyone can do it,” she says.

“I also completely object to the ‘talent’ shows where becoming famous is the only thing that the contestants desire. I have no problem in real talent being discovered, but if you put non-trained performers into a highly trained form — you’ve got to expect them to not be up to the job.”

She adds: “There’s no problem with performers being recording artists only… think Kate Bush. Personally, I would hate that! Part of the joy of performing is doing it live — but not everyone thinks like that.”

So is Boyle the victim? Or did she owe her audience more? Not just the audience in fact, but the beleaguered front-of-house staff forced to deal with angry and disappointed fans who feel they’ve been fleeced. Is it a swizz, or should she be treated with sympathy? It’s really hard to say.

The harsh reality of the overnight success, a concept taken into hyperdrive in these days of X Factor YouTube clips, has a lot to answer for.

  • pixie petroff

    Susan’s appearances were never guaranteed In all the interviews it was clear that she will do some of the shows. If the marketing people mess up it is not fair to blame Susan She has never missed a performance except the one time she was sick and that time she was actually on her way and she had to return home.

  • max winston

    Of course, Subo was never guaranteed. She agreed to kick off the show to give it some momentum, but she has lots of other commitments.

    Most playgoers seem to feel it’s a fine show, on its own without SB. Elaine C. Smith has gotten rave reviews. Which is the main point. If it’s ever going to the West End or the US, the acting company has to be able to pull it off by themselves. Susan was never going to make singing 2 songs, in a finale, her life’s work.

    Vicky’s issue should be with the theaters. They know when Subo won’t be appearing. For instance, at the moment, she’s rehearsing for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the BGT final show, both this weekend. The Musical is playing Southend. Is the theater still advertising her appearance.

  • Will’O the Whisp

    If the publicity and website state that Susan will appear “barring unforeseen circumstances,” then that’s exactly what ticket purchasers should expect when they attend the performances. To give them less than what is promised is deceptive and unprofessional. The hard-working cast of the musical deserve better than this—and the public deserve to get what they’ve paid for! No wonder people feel cheated and manipulated!

  • LuvsMusicalTheatre

    @pixiepetroff – You have been misinformed about the number of shows Susan has skipped. She has been a no-show for over a quarter of the performances. At Bristol, the most recently completed tour stop, she deigned to drop in for only two of the seven shows – meanwhile being spotted out shopping at home in Scotland, and according to a tweet, she was singing karaoke in her local this past Saturday night rather than appearing for the final show in Bristol.

    @maxwinston – Elaine C Smith disclosed in an interview that Susan owns one half of the production. As an owner, she is in control of the advertising – the buck stops with her.

    Anyone like Ms. Anderson who was the victim of deceptive advertising, would be doing the public a service, and hitting the show’s owners where it hurts, by going to the websites of the upcoming venues, and recounting your experiences (although unfortunately the majority of the show’s demographic is unlikely to use the Internet).

    For instance, I Dreamed a Dream is currently playing in Southend at Cliff’s Pavilion – comments can be posted on their facebook,

    http://www.facebook.com/SouthendTheatres

    Other upcoming venues can be found here:

    http://susanboylemusical.com/tour.html

  • pixie petroff

    @Luvsmusicaltheatre I was not referring to the musical – I was talking about another performance. Susan is not likely to just miss a performance – I’m sure she is keeping to the scheduled performances so it is not fair to blame her. Furthermore I’m sure she is not involved with advertising etc as she has a busy life.

  • Vicky Anderson

    Thanks to everyone for their comments, which serve to illustrate my usual fence-sitting stance.

    I saw Susan Boyle on the second night of the Liverpool dates, and she did appear as billed in that instance. However, I wrote a review, and it was the comments and reaction to it that got me thinking about what I write here.

    The comments there are split as they are here; half feeling ripped-off (as it is a project Boyle is personally involved in and has helped promote) and half accepting she wasn’t guaranteed to be at every show.

    Although I did see her, she did not appear the following night; but photographs appeared in local papers of her having been spotted out and about. She was still in the city — but not on stage.

    Obviously you can’t build a career on encore performances, as Max Winston says above… but for many speculative reasons SuBo appears unable to give full concerts either. I was interested in debating what people expect from a performer, and if a career in entertainment without the live element is possible these days.

    http://madeup.lv/review-i-dreamed-a-dream-liverpool-empire.

  • pixie petroff

    Ms Anderson after reading your review of the Musical I now fully understand why you wrote this article. FYI the Musical once again got rave reviews in Southend on Sea.

  • Who’s to blame?

    @Max Winston, saying that she was never going to make appearing at the musical her life’s work is a ludicrous statement. No one expects her to do that. They do expect her to perform when she’s expected to perform, and she is expected to perform after every show irregardless of what was initially planned.

    @LUVSMUSICALTHEATRE, I’m not sure I’d hold her personally responsible but if the initial idea was for her to miss some performances, whoever she’s paying, and probably paying quite handsomely, is where the buck stops and she’s the victim of very poor handling.

  • A little FYI

    Vicky, the scene with Susan’s manager trying to convince her to perform in NY wasn’t written into the Musical to cover anything, it happened and she talked about it in her autobiography which was written long before there were any plans for this musical.
    At the time, November of 2009, she had very little experience outside of Britain’s Got Talent, her first CD was being released that very day and she had no idea if it was going to sell or not, and she was about to sing on Live TV. That’s a lot of pressure.
    Despite all of that, she did go out and sing and she did a brilliant job. I was there that day and no one would have had any idea of what she’d gone through that morning.
    Yes she gets nervous, perhaps more than most performers, but she always gets out there and does her job.
    Exactly what the problem is here no one knows, but personally I don’t believe she’s not going on just because she doesn’t feel like it. She sang on Live TV on China’s Got Talent so she can certainly handle this.

  • Alan Daw

    Well, it appears I was fortunate to see one of the shows at the Liverpool Empire which did include an appearance by Susan at the end. For me, very professional and entertaining as the show was, the appearance by Susan to conclude the show was indeed the icing on the cake. She received a well-deserved standing ovation and appeared to greatly appreciate the audience’s enthusiasm.
    It is unlikely that I would go to see her on her own again in live concert but I have to say that particular show was a very enjoyable experience for me due also to the excellent supporting cast.