What's All This Then?

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Friday, April 17, 2009

I hadn’t planned to write anything today - I’m trying to recover from Wednesday’s unforgivable misuse of the royal drink of kings and other worthy nobles to insult and attack President Obama under the guise of protesting taxes and Wall Street bailouts. There’s nothing wrong with protesting the way we’re taxed and how the government spends our tax money. There’s a lot wrong with using such protests to yell epithets and carry banners accusing the President of being a Communist, a Socialist, a Fascist or a Hitler clone. The people doing that aren’t protesters. They’re sick hatemongers. So I’m not going to waste time and effort writing about them.

But I just took several minutes to view and listen to Susan Boyle performing on YouTube - a longer version than the one we’ve all seen and heard countless times on newscasts and other television shows -and there was one aspect of that performance that annoyed me and that I think is worth writing about - because I’m sure that no one else will.

As the whole world now knows - Susan is the 48 year old, dowdy looking spinster from Scotland who appeared on "Britain’s Got Talent" and wowed the judges and the audience with her version of "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserable. The musical is a favorite of mine and on my CD of the show, the song is performed beautifully by Randy Graff who played Fantine in the original Broadway production. I also have an interesting version of the song by Neil Diamond on his 1987 reprise of his first "Hot August Night" album.

Ms Boyle’s performance has been reported on our national news telecasts as though it was a major news story - and I would assume has been and is being reported with the same vigor in other countries. And it’s been reported that the YouTube viewership has run into the millions. I turned my radio on this morning - and there it was again - still being reported as a major news story. And I’m getting e-mails from friends and relatives with links to YouTube as if I might have missed the onslaught of news reports. It’s always nice when a new musical talent bursts upon the scene - but the coverage of this new talent reached the overkill point a couple of days ago - and I have no idea how I might describe the coverage if I see and hear more reports tomorrow and the next day - as I fully expect to.

Susan Boyle has a strong , clear voice that doesn’t match her appearance - and I guess that was of some significance to the "Britain’s Got Talent" judges and to the studio audience. Her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" doesn’t match that of a Randy Graff or of Leah Salonga who also played Fantine on stage - but for an amateur, it was an admirable performance. I wish I could say the same for the audience reaction - which is a part of the story that I thought was worth writing about.

It seemed just fine to the likes of Charlie Gibson and other TV news anchors who called attention to the obvious - that the audience reaction to her appearance quickly changed from skepticism to enthusiastic approval. The on the air news clips that I’ve seen showed only enough of her performance to demonstrate her surprising vocal ability and the reaction it engendered. But I have now listened to the entire performance - and to me, the audience reaction was as much disrespectful as it was approving - with their incessant applause and other noisy expressions - almost from Ms Boyle’s first note to her last. Not being a rock star used to such behavior from arrested juveniles, it’s a wonder she managed to get through the song at all. I know I sat and listened to the entire performance shaking my head in disbelief and saying "shut up already" to an unresponsive screen.

What happened at that taping of "Britain’s Got Talent" is something that has happened many many times in the life of musical theater. Some little known performer steps to the footlights to sing and - in showbizz jargon - "stops the show." And when that happens in the theater, the audience reaction is always the same. It is one of stunned silence . Of hushed awe. Not a single extraneous sound to interfere with the unexpected, show stopping performance. And at the end of such a performance in the theater - enthusiastic applause. Sustained applause. Often a standing ovation. But always at the end - not during the show stopping performance - and sometimes even after a measurable pause as the audience takes a moment to let what they’ve just seen and heard "sink in."

One has to wonder what kind of people make up the audience at "Britain’s Got Talent" tapinngs. .Certainly not theater goers. They strike me as more like the Jerry Springer kind of studio audience - expected and presumably encouraged to yell, scream, hiss and hoot while the show’s guests "perform." Maybe the producers of "Britain’s Got Talent" recruit these kinds of audiences and encourage them to react to the amateur performers while they are performing. Just like the Jerry Springer Show.

But unless the studio was packed with European and American tourists , the presumption is that Ms Boyle was performing in front of an English audience. English! An appellation that at one time was synonymous with breeding - with good manners. But apparently now a memory of the distant past. An English studio audience for Simon Cowell’s productions is interchangeable with an American audience for a Simon Cowell production. Both guaranteed to act like yahoos on cue.

I realize that part of the attraction of the amateur shows run by Simon Cowell - over here it’s American Idol - is to feature a sprinkling of hopelessly untalented amateurs so that he and other judges can insult and ridicule them - and the audiences, either voluntarily or with encouragement, join in the derision with jeers and laughter. It’s all part of the show. It’s an aspect of the show that attracts a segment of the television audience - perhaps a large segment - those who think it’s "entertaining" to watch people make fools of themselves and to be ridiculed for their efforts. To have their feeble attempts at "performing" drowned out by derisive laughter and other assorted noises. But when that kind of behavior carries over to the kind of talent displayed by Susan Boyle - hooting, hollering and applauding while she tried to sing - for me it came close to spoiling the performance because I was almost as much disgusted with the obviously well intentioned but nonetheless offensive cacophony as I was impressed with her singing.

I hope Ms Boyle has the kind of career that she’s dreamed of all her life. I just hope that if she reaches the London stage or Broadway - none of the people who accompanied her television debut with their cacophonous idea of "approval" - will be in the audience.