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NEWCASTLE, England (Reuters) - Fans came from as far as Australia to see the premiere of a new musical based on the life of reality TV star Susan Boyle, and early reviews suggested the trip was not wasted.
"I Dreamed a Dream", named after the song that made Boyle a global celebrity via YouTube in 2009, premiered at Newcastle's Theatre Royal in northern England late on Tuesday and the reviews have been mainly glowing.
"In matching the gutsy good humor of its heroine without stooping to hagiography, this is a delight that deserves to go far, and fast, as she has done," said Dominic Cavendish in a five-star review in the Daily Telegraph.
Patrick Marmion awarded the show three stars out of five in the Daily Mail, writing: "It's also a jolly good knees-up. Between moments of throat-clearing reverentiality and tear-stained crooning, there is much fun to be had."
Boyle, who shot to fame after singing on the "Britain's Got Talent" TV show, is portrayed in the musical by Scottish actress Elaine Smith, although the 50-year-old makes a brief appearance in a rousing finale.
Smith, best known in Britain for her role in television sitcom "Rab C. Nesbitt", said the musical should help audiences understand Boyle's sometimes difficult life -- both before she found fame and fortune and after.
"If we were going to do a stage show it was going to be theatrical and magical and tell the fairy story but tell the darkness of it as well," Smith told Reuters.
"You had to be tall, thin, blonde, gorgeous, and talent didn't matter any more, and I think for all of us, myself included, when you see Susan it was about judging a book by its cover.
"And it made us all sit back and say 'Oh wait a minute, talent matters'."
Producer Michael Harrison praised Boyle for handling the pressure of the media and public spotlight.
Boyle's rendition of I Dreamed a Dream from "Les Miserables" has been watched hundreds of millions of times on the internet and she has gone on to sell tens of millions of records under the watchful eye of music impresario Simon Cowell.
The meteoric rise to fame of the former Scottish church worker, whose age and appearance turned her into what some commentators described as a media "freak show", took its toll early on when she was admitted to a clinic after a breakdown.
"I think the way she's dealt with it all is remarkable," Harrison said.
"Because you suddenly go from being on your own in a working class village in Scotland to global superstardom and I think that affects anybody and I think she continues to handle it brilliantly."
Fans came from far and wide to attend the premiere.
"I decided back in June to attend the Susan Boyle musical ... even though at that stage Susan hadn't been announced as appearing in the show," said Cathy Garroway who travelled from Sydney, Australia.
Jeannie Odom, from California, said Boyle had proved her doubters wrong.
"Susan is everybody, she's your sister, she's your neighbor, she's the person you sit next to in church and sing with," she said.
"For her to have the courage to get up on 'Britain's Got Talent' and walk out and take a chance of being accepted and heard, everyone was snickering at her. And once she opened her mouth and began to sing, no one was snickering."
Boyle, who pulled out of planned media interviews before the premiere, is expected to appear and perform at most of the shows. It plays in Newcastle until March 31 before going on a tour of Britain and Ireland.
Writing by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato