Year of the Producer: Michael Harrison's Eureka moment for Susan Boyle musical I Dreamed a Dream
Date: 3 May 2012
Yesterday, Michael Harrison was amongst the producing team launching the West End screen-to-stage musical The Bodyguard. He’s also created a buzz – and widespread international press – for his other big production this year, I Dreamed a Dream, the musical story based on the real life of Britain’s Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle.
The show stars Elaine C Smith, who also co-wrote it with Alan McHugh. In spite of mean-spirited sniping from some quarters during development, the show triumphed with a host of four- and five-star reviews when it premiered in Newcastle in March. It’s currently embarked on a 22-week UK tour, with a possible West End transfer and international productions now being discussed.
As part of our ongoing Year of the Producer series, Michael Harrison tells us the story behind the production.
I read a press statement about plans to make a movie of Susan Boyle
's life in which they asked Susan who she would like to see play her. I think Michelle Pfeiffer and Glenn Close had been suggested, but Susan said, "There’s a lovely Scottish actress called Elaine C Smith
and I’d like her to play the part".
Now Elaine and I have had a long association. She was in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband, both of which I produced. The next day she and I were on the phone and I asked her if she'd seen what Susan had said about her. Elaine told me she had been on holiday and her phone had gone crazy. She said, "I’ll never get the movie, though. It will be some Hollywood star".
So I said, "Why don’t you do something about her in the theatre? A musical or a play with music would be a really interesting idea. Think about it - a working-class story set in Blackburn in Scotland, the growing up, the bullying, the family life, the boyfriend, the loss of the parents, the being in a position of 'where do I go from here?' This was a girl whose parents were told she’d never come to be anything and she went on to be one of the biggest singing sensations in the world. It’s a fairy tale, Elaine."
Susan Boyle & Elaine C Smith
We sort of laughed about it and then hung up, but about ten minutes later she rang me back. She said there could be something in it so I got in contact with Susan’s management to see whether it was something they might be interested in and happily it was.
Of course, there was a lot of sneering from certain quarters. People believed we were just out to do a jukebox musical. But I love the underdog. And, while I’m not for one moment comparing I Dreamed a Dream to Mamma Mia!, Les Miserables and Wicked, they were also poo-pooed before they opened - 'how can you bastardise Victor Hugo' or 'why do a show with a load of songs by Abba' or 'who cares about what happened before The Wizard of Oz?
It’s not hurtful; I know that people judge, I judge other shows. But when you’re not involved in it, you don’t know about the story or the team that's being put together or the cast that's being assembled. My biggest thrill is that, from the very first run-through in the rehearsal room in Glasgow, people have been surprised by it. It's not what people thought it would be, it really is a play with a soundtrack.
Elaine C Smith as Susan Boyle. Photo credit: Keith Pattison
Susan Boyle hasn’t been involved in the writing of it, but everything in the show is based on fact - taken either from her book or from things that she has said. Obviously, there is a bit of theatrical licence to make it work on stage, but Susan has been around a lot and she sang at the opening performances. She and her family were in on press night, too, which was very emotional, and they all absolutely loved it, giving it a big thumbs up.
As for the show's future - we are touring until June and will do Edinburgh and Glasgow in September and October which will obviously be a very big deal in Susan’ native Scotland. It was never intended to be a London show because of those sniggering reactions, but we have had interest from the West End and from around the world since we opened to such strong reviews. The problem is that everyone wants the show with Elaine C Smith! It is a powerhouse performance, a fantastic performance, but Elaine can’t be in Australia, Canada and America at the same time!
- Michael Harrison was talking to Terri Paddock
|Mr Harrison, I would like to say what a fantastic show you have put together. We have just been to see the Susan Boyle story at the Hippodrome in Birmingham. It wwas absolutely brilliant. I was sorry not to see Susan herself, but the show was so good it made up for it. Thank you so much for a brilliant evening. - Mavis R Evans.||01 Jun 12|
|I agree with John White! I paid £72 to see IDAD which was advertised with large photographs of, and the stapline 'including guest appearance of', Susan Boyal at Cliffs Paavilion in Southend. She did not appear on Friday or Saturday because her management had removed her to appear on the Britain's Got Talent final - I hope she had no part in the decision. Inflated prices are charged for weekend performances at this venue and the aaudience didn't get what they paid for, a request for a refund to the duty manager at first got the reply that I should have read the small print, I pointeed out that I'd booked in March in person and there was no small print at the sales window or mention of the possible non-appearance of Ms Boyle at that time, he then gave me a piece of paper with the producers address - will await their responnse with interest. I will not be supporting my local theatre again & if it goes to the wall it has only itself, and producers like this, to blame! - KJ||14 May 12|
|I took my daughter to the Susan Boyle story in Southend on sea today and she never made an appearance..
I would like my money back please. - John White||11 May 12|
|Saw IDAD last night (02/05) in Bristol. Brilliant! Emotional! we laughed and cried! Elaine is Susan Boyle and long may she reign.But, the icing on the cake was the appearance of Susan Boyle herself. The theatre erupted and she received a standing ovation that went on for some minutes before she sang her signature song. What a night, we felt privileged just being there! - alan||03 May 12|
|I have seen the musical on the opening night in NewCastle and i agree fully with all the glowing reviews.
IDAD is a wonderful, interesting, emotional and funny musical, Elaine Smith is acting fantastic, actually, all the cast is and the set is simple and very effective to the story.
This musical deserves to go worldwide for many,many years - Truus Buist||02 May 12|
|Since I am in Canada, I have not seen the play, but I've read the glowing reviews, read the tweets from folks who've been to see it and they all rave about it. Congratulations for seeing the value in Susan and her story. She is an inspiration worthy of a musical for sure. - CBill||02 May 12|
|I also saw the opening night of IDAD and was overwhelmed with the entire production. The writing of the play was so well done, and the acting so personal that I felt as if I were there. Elaine is fabulous as Susan. It's like she knows what goes on in Susan's mind. I too would love to see Elaine in the role of Susan in West End and Broadway productions. Congratulations!! - Jean||02 May 12|
|I saw the opening night of IDAD and it is indeed a triumph for you, Elaine and Alan and the entire cast. This show is so well written, so tight and seamless that when it indeed tours the world, an actor with the talent and integrity of Elaine could indeed play this part in my opinion. Elaine is extraordinary in the role. I would love to see her play the role in the West End and Broadway productions. This play is a beautiful ode to the amazing Susan Boyle. Well done, everyone!! - Carol||02 May 12|
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