Review – Susan Boyle

Jul 13 2013 | By More

* * * *  Feel the phenomenon

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh Fri 12 July and Saturday 13 July 2013

The temperature in the Festival Theatre is sky high and climbing in anticipation of Susan Boyle’s appearance – at last – in her own show on her home turf. The pre-show buzz is completely off the scale.

Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle (Publicity photograph)

The last thing Susan needs is a warm-up act. So when the lights dim and the curtain opens to reveal Lance Ellington, the singer from BBC’s Strictly, there is a hint of anti-climax.

Still, he gets the eight-piece band nicely settled in, with silky-smooth renditions of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good and Luck Be A Lady from Guys And Dolls.

When, at last, he introduces the star of the show the place goes bananas. And there she is, posed at the top of a staircase, backlighting creating a halo effect. Still no song, though, instead it is Simon’s voice that bursts through:

Cowell: “Alright, what’s your name, darling?”
“My name is Susan Boyle.”
Cowell (checks his crib sheet) “OK, ah, Susan, where are you from?”
“I’m from Blackburn, near Bathgate, West Lothian.”

The opening exchange from Susan’s very first audition on Britain’s Got Talent broadcast on 11 April, 2009 is probably ranked not too far behind the first moon landing on the list of iconic tv moments.

As the recording plays Susan, the real Susan there onstage mimes through her part – including her trademark bum-wiggle. And all scepticism flees: it is a hilarious, brilliant opening.

With spotlights making her full-length gown shimmer and sparkle, Susan is dressed like a diva – and then she goes and waves like a wifey to her adoring fans. And you are struck – once again – with wonder at just how unlikely this all is.

As she stands in those lights, Susan’s sheer silk wrap seems like a sheet of cellophane put there to protect her. It feels symbolic of the whole evening: Susan’s People – thankfully – seem to be taking care of her and making the whole performance process as easily manageable by her as is possible

A gentlemanly arm is proffered to assist the star down the stairs and the microphone stand is moved around the stage for her.

Her own sense of fun and humour sparkles through

When she addresses the audience. It is all very deliberate. With lots of pauses. Perhaps not just a technique to calm her nerves. But as it continues throughout the performance. The likelihood dawns. That Susan is being fed her lines. Through the earpieces she wears.

She noticeably relaxes when she goes off-script and her own sense of fun and humour sparkles through.

While the earpiece technique is less than perfect and timing is clearly an issue , you do get used to it. And lets not  forget, even Sinatra ended up using similar methods.

Neither have Susan’s People expected her to unlearn anything she already knows in favour of any new arrangements. So the songs sound pretty much as performed by the original artists. In X Factor parlance, she doesn’t exactly make them her own.

The notable exception is her cover of the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses which – am I really going to admit this? – is possibly – just possibly – gulp – better than the original. There, I’ve said it. Much credit to whoever suggested that most unlikely of songs for her to sing.

So, what of the singing. Once the nervy opening is out the way Susan certainly shows she has a heck of a voice.

Over The Rainbow, As Long As He Needs Me, Unchained Melody, You Raise Me Up and of course, I Dreamed A Dream are the expected audience-pleasers. With River Deep Mountain High, performed with Lance Ellington and one of the evening’s few up-tempo numbers, Susan seems to cut-loose and really enjoy herself, earning one of the biggest ovations of the night.

When she needs to belt, she belts. When she needs to pull it back, she can do that, too. There is a lovely tone and pure quality to her voice. Again to lapse into X Factor-speak, she isn’t “pitchy” – the notes seem true.

Timing still seems a slight problem, but Susan’s protectors have provided a sympathetic musical director and musicians who seamlessly get her through it. An occasional memory lapse with lyrics is probably aided through the earpieces.

This next bit is difficult to understand and explain. While, for whatever reason, Susan’s delivery of  her songs can seem emotionally disconnected, she elicits a massive emotional response from her audience.

It is as if we feel the emotion for her through what we have learned of her, have read about her and seen in several revelatory tv programmes.

There are many people involved in entertainment who are there not just because they are among the best at what they do, but because of who they are and what they represent and why they got there. Susan Boyle is clearly one such.

But you have to love that she can stand on that stage, with 19 million album sales to her credit and a packed out auditorium in front of her, and give a metaphoric two-fingered gesture to all the sneerers and bullies.

Would I buy or purposely seek out one of her recordings to listen to? No. Would I go to another of her performances? Probably not. But do I feel I experienced something of a phenomenon at her concert?

As Simon would say – “That’s a big fat yes from me”.

Running time 2 hrs 15 mins

Run ends Saturday 13 July 2013
Festival Theatre, 13 Nicholson Street, Edinburgh EH8 9FT
Fri 12 – Sat 13 July, 8pm.

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Comments (5)

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  1. L.E. says:

    Please don’t leave your readers with the impression that Subo created that arrangement of Wild Horses. It is Charlotte Martin’s version that she is imitating, right down to the haunting ‘wi-i-ild horses’ – check it out on YouTube. Susan’s voice is much the more beautiful IMO, but she seems to have no qualms about lifting other artists’ arrangements. Compare also Susan’s recordings with Eva Cassidy’s ‘Over the Rainbow’, Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Unchained Melody’, Sarah Hickman’s ‘Mad World’, Dusty Springfield’s ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’, and Susanna & The magical Orchestra’s ‘Enjoy the Silence.’ In each case Susan closely copied their vocals & unique arrangements – and all without a word of credit.

  2. JMcL says:

    Is Susan supposed to say before every song ‘and by the way this is the **** arrangement of the song? Susan has never said ‘this is an original arrangement’.
    Susan’s fans understand her and how she performs, they don’t expect her to come up with fancy arrangements, they expect her to do what she is comfortable doing.
    Remember Susan is a phenomenon and fits into no specific category and this is what makes her special, not coming up with original songs and arrangements.
    She has a lovely voice and that along with her uniqueness is enough.
    I have seen her perform live once and I have never felt such love in an audience before and that left me feeling good when I left the theatre. I don’t know when I had that feeling at any event before.

  3. L.E. says:

    Actually Susan DID lie about the arrangement of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, on U.S. TV, and the social media lit up in anger that she claimed Eva Cassidy’s version was her own. And in many other instances, when asked about the arrangements of that and other songs, she has danced all around the question, never giving credit where credit was due. Her dishonesty makes it impossible to enjoy listening to those songs. And anyway, whoever heard of a “great” singer going to Youtube & copying the EXACT phrasing & nuances of another singer!?! If she wants to be as great as Elaine Paige, she’s going to have to do better than that. Sometimes even her die-hard fans can’t tell the difference between Susan and the artist she’s mimicking. That’s just shameful – but she has no shame.

  4. IR - Windsor says:

    Honestly L.E. get over yourself. Singers are just that, ‘Singers’. They sing other peoples stuff and you either like it or you don’t. It appears 15 million people like what Susan does. Who ever said she wants to be as great as Elaine Paige ???…. and why would that be a ‘good thing’ for heavens sake.

    Whinging and whining that someone doesn’t give credit appropriately to some imaginary necessary level that might satisfy you????…. what are you on???… what makes your assessment of the necessary ‘credit giving’ levels of any relevance what so ever.

    If you don’t like her then don’t buy her stuff, and stop using her shortcomings to make yourself feel better or emphasise some imaginary expertise level you think you have. The woman has done you no harm.