Bernadette the Musical at the Dominion Theatre in London


Previewed 18 June 1990, Opened 21 June 1990, Closed 14 July 1990 at the Dominion Theatre

A new musical based on the story of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes with music by Gwyn Hughes and lyrics by Maureen Hughes

Lourdes 1858. Bernadette Soubirous, a young peasant girl, claims to have had visions of a beautiful lady, later interpreted to be the Virgin Mary. A spring appears at the appropriate spot, and miraculous healing is then reported. But before these events give credence to Bernadette's claims, she is ridiculed and threatened with prison.

The cast featured Natalie Wright as 'Bernadette Soubirous' with William Pool as 'Henri', Meredith Braun as 'Camille', Terry Mitchell as 'Philippe', Chris Van Cleave as 'Dominique Jacomet' and Terence Conoley as 'Abbe Peyramale' along with Nikki Ankara as 'Louise Soubirous', Margaret Bankier as 'Sister Marie Geraud', Vicky Coote as 'Jeanne Abadie' and Robin Samson as 'Francois Soubirous'.

Directed by Ernest Maxin with choreography by Pat Dennison, sets by Martin Collins, costumes by Lynda Yong, lighting by Peter Zygadlo and sound by Robert Brown.

The cast also including a 14-year-old Martine McCutcheon sharing the named role of 'Sophie Pailhasson' and Lottie Mayor who was in the ensemble and was also the understudy for the title role of 'Bernadette'.

This production was dubbed 'The People's Musical' by the producers after, having failed to raise money to stage the musical in the West End from the corporate sector, they turned to the 'public'. Out of the just ober one million pounds needed to present this musical, the majority - some £750,000 - was raised from 2,150 members of the public who could invest as little as £100 each, but on average invested around £350 each. The remainder of the costs was the raised by the show's producer William Fonfe remortgaging his house.

It was reported that, with a large cast of around 40, the production needed to sell, on average, around 800 seats for each performance in the 2,000 seater Dominion Theatre - but was actually only managing to sell around 500. Therefore, on Monday evening, 9 July, the producers informed the cast that the show would close at the end of the week after playing 3 preview performances and 28 regular performances.

In addition to being dubbed 'The People's Musical' due to the high number of 'ordinary' investors, the production was also notable for receiving a blessing from the Pope, with a Charity Gala Performance the evening before the official opening, held in the presence of Luigi Barbarito, the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to Great Britain.

"Ordinary punters, 2,000 of them, have reportedly dug into their savings to cover its costs... Oh dear. Last night I caught myself wishing I was in a kindlier trade, such as whaling or seal-culling, for my message must be that The People should have gambled their hard-earned loot on something surer of success, like the United Arab Emirates winning the World Cup. The trouble starts with Lourdes itself, in Ernest Maxin's production the kind of frolicsome village that exists only in musicals... Enter Natalie Wright's sweet Bernadette Soubirous, exuding over-miked fragility. Unluckily, the authors have no more to say about her than that she saw a vision, here a smoky light with a Cheshire Cat smile, oddly ensconced in a giant pumice-stone; that she divided her community into sceptics and supporters; that she won over her inexhaustibly agonised mum and perhaps even the frock-coated figure who stalks obscurely round the stage, informing Bernadette 'I wish I'd never set eyes on you / I wish I'd never heard the name Soubirous'. Clarity is not the show's strength. Nor is the sub-plot with which the authors desperately try to vary their tale. This involves a father's attempts to prevent his doting daughter marrying a hero who repetitively sings things like 'the sun may fade, the seas run dry / But my love will never die'... Alas, both rhymes and characterisation are typical of the evening, while the music, with its soaring violins and samey rhythms, seems hardly more sophisticated than the Hums of Pooh, and probably less tuneful." The Times

"There is one hypnotic moment in Bernadette at the Dominion. At the end, as the cast gathers on stage to hymn Bernadette Soubirous's vision of the immaculate conception, a candle-decked frame arises from the orchestra-pit. The implication is clear: the band has been on its knees all night, praying, like the rest of us, for a moment of divine revelation... The first problem with Bernadette is that it is very difficult to know what is going on. Clearly it is the story of the Lourdes miller's daughter who had divine visions at the Massabielle Rock; but since, in Ernest Maxin's coarse production, the visions are represented by illuminated puffs of smoke in a grotto, one is reminded of the transformation-scene in a London Palladium Aladdin. What really puzzles, however, is the tenuously relevant sub-plot in which a village-girl is torn between her dissolute father and her adoring lover. Who are all these people? And isn't it somewhat gratuitous for the lover to die in a town-square scuffle, apparently by being impaled on an inn-sign? A musical has to tell its story through song: here people to whom you have barely been introduced simply come on and belt their hearts out. Musical idiom is also unrelated to character: everyone in the village seems to exist off a diet of sentimental ballads. But what really depresses me is the utter banality of the lyrics. Phrases like 'Old wounds will heal and memories fade' drift across one's stupefied consciousness as if song-writing were simply a matter of setting cliches to music." The Guardian

The People's Musical Bernadette in London at the Dominion Theatre previewed from 18 June 1990, opened on 21 June 1990, and closed on 14 July 1990