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Chasing the dream… and musical nightmares

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Undoubtedly the most famous moment in the history of Britain’s Got Talent remains Susan Boyle’s audition with ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ – a song from a musical that propelled her into a global celebrity, though she didn’t actually win the finale she was part of, losing to dance troupe Diversity.

I was in the live studio audience for the finale, and tonight I’m heading back to Wembley’s Fountain Studio for the live semi-finals of this year’s competition.

That’s because for the first time in the history of the competition, a developing musical has made it to the finale, as opposed to an act (or performing dog). Just last week I was writing about the development of new musicals, and quoted Andrew Lloyd Webber telling me a few years ago, “There’s no point sitting trying to do things in the old conventional ways – we are living in a completely different world.” He also said that musical theatre “will continue to change in ways that neither you nor I can see at the moment. In the next year or two – and it sure as hell won’t be me – there will be some kind of musical or entertainment that is evolved on the net. Quite what it is I don’t know, but I sense that’s where it will come from.”

Last weekend I helped judge the first round of semi-finals of the Search for a Twitter Composer competition in which some seven composers or composing teams, out of the 98 that had submitted themselves for consideration, showed extracts from their work in front of a live audience and judging panel, both of whom selected one each to go forward to the finale. So Andrew Lloyd Webber may be quite right that a future musical is being born online.

And now a future one is also being born live on reality television. Chasing the Dream, as it is called, is written by composer Danny Davies with actor Pete Gallagher (seen in last year’s Jesus Christ Superstar arena stage tour) as librettist and lyricist. Last year Davies sent me a copy of an album he’d produced to showcase his work, Hey Producer! that has a YouTube teaser, featuring a cracking cast of West Enders like Alison Jiear, Peter Polycarpou, Jonn Robyns and Julie Atherton.

An album release is one thing; but reaching a nationwide audience on reality TV is another. So I’ll be there to cheer it on!

The badge of honour of failure

From one musical that’s pinning its hopes on reality TV to another that was set in the world of The X Factor but has crashed and burnt: Viva Forever! Set around a group of young female friends who get through to the final audition stages of a TV talent show, at which point one of them has to choose whether to ditch her friends and go it alone, it is, as I dubbed it at the time in my Sunday Express review, “a phoney, manufactured musical about a phoney, manufactured band, marooned by a structurally inept, unfunny script.”

I’ve previously written about producer Judy Craymer’s personal reaction to me. As I reported, the last time I saw her she told me, “I think I’m going to have to cut off your willy.” It is, I am happy to say, still intact; but her ego is bruised. And I was part of it – she told me that she cried when she read my review. I take no pleasure from such news, but it is also my job to call it like I see it, and replied accordingly. “Yes, but we’re theatre people – we should stick together,” she replied.

But as someone posted in a reply to this post,

Friends tell each other the truth. With an endless stream of “Darling, you were marvellous” we pave the way for lazy art – and that is the least supportive we could possibly be.

And as I also wrote,

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t honest about my feelings. Integrity is the first job of a critic. But I also see my job as a support, too – and I seriously hope that she’s not discouraged from developing future, hopefully original, new musicals in the future.

So I’m happy to read that she’s still licking her wounds but in the end undaunted and planning just that. In an interview in the Evening Standard last week, she said of the show’s fast failure:

It’s a kind of grief. I still feel heartbroken. In theatre you build a family with the cast and crew and the creative team, and you take for granted that these are people you are going to live with. There’s nothing worse than giving bad news…

I feel the same way. And in the Standard, she now concedes of the critics, “They were just doing their job. The problem is, that job goes forward onto Twitter and blogs.” And I’m guilty as charged on both those counts.

But she’s also more accepting now, and planning for the future again. As Nick Curtis writes,

 All the big producers had flops: “It’s like I’ve got my badge of honour now.” She’s turned her attention back to the ongoing behemoth that is Mamma Mia!, but once the dust has settled, Viva Forever! could be retooled for a foreign production, or licensed to schools. “If I do another show, maybe it will be with an original score,” she says, then corrects herself. “I mean when, not if.”

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