Street of Dreams was a musical based on Coronation Street that opened to mixed reviews on 9th May 2012 at the 20,000-seat Manchester M.E.N. (Manchester Evening News) Arena and closed the next day after just two performances with recriminations, rancour and legal action following on.
ITV called the production "Corrie meets Moulin Rouge" and it featured Coronation Street cast members such as Kym Marsh, Katy Cavanagh, Julie Goodyear, Kevin Kennedy, Brian Capron and William Roache (though the latter appeared by way of a pre-recorded segment).
The production was some three years in the planning and was based on the album Coronation Street - Rogues, Angels, Heroes and Fools, which was written by Trisha Ward, the composer and lyricist, and released on 29th November 2010. The enterprise was produced by two companies named Reckless Entertainment and Street of Dreams Limited in cooperation with and under licence from ITV with Coronation Street executive producer Kieran Roberts taking on the additional responsibility of one of the production team on the show. The first announcements were made in August 2009 when The Sun broke the news that the project was underway as part of the programme’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations but in the event it took almost another two years before the idea became stage reality. The final script was a collaboration between Ward and Coronation Street scriptwriter Damon Rochefort with contributions from Jayne Tunnicliffe who had appeared as Yana Lumb in the programme and is married to Senior Storyline Writer Mark Bickerton. John Stephenson was the director of the show.
The imminent production was formally announced via a one-minute video launched uploaded onto YouTube on 7th December 2011 which featured narrator and main star Paul O’Grady as a milkman as he delivered to the street meeting the productions main stars including Kennedy, Roache and Goodyear in character together with archive clips of Patricia Phoenix as Elsie Tanner.
Tickets went on sale the next day with the press release stating:
- “After more than fifty years on air, Britain’s best-loved soap has a glorious heritage of unforgettable stories and iconic characters which have been handpicked and now carefully crafted into this brilliant musical event by award-winning musical writer, composer and lyricist, Trisha Ward.”
Paul O’Grady gave an interview to the Daily Mirror on 9th December in which he said:
- "I was sent a copy last year and I played it on the radio and I thought the songs were really clever, so when Trisha rang up and asked if I was interested I said yes. I fancied doing some theatre, it sounded like a good idea and I love Coronation Street."
Symptoms of the production being a troubled one first appeared in March 2012 when confusion was caused by the show’s official website and Facebook and Twitter feeds stating that the show would be on its stated launch dates of 21st and 22nd March but ticket-buyers were being informed that the dates were now 9th and 10th May with the change being "due to the intricacy of scale involved in the staging of this world first production."
Casting continued until March 2012 with apparently incorrect reports in The News of the World that Katherine Kelly would be playing Becky McDonald however Kym Marsh did sign on as reported to play a young Elsie Tanner with Jodie Prenger playing the older Elsie.
The narrative of the show was presented by O’Grady who took the audience through fifty years of the programme’s storylines by the medium of song and dance presented by a 36-strong cast. The show featured a live orchestra on the rooftops of the 80-foot wide street set and with a large screen above that showing the original television footage of the storylines being presented. Katy Cavanagh didn’t appear in her role of Julie Carp but instead as “the angel of death” who informed Paul (and the audience) of the various demises being suffered by the characters and the progression of the their lives. Famous glimpses from the past included Jack and Vera Duckworth and the Vince St. Clair story and Stan and Hilda Ogden's second honeymoon with the lines "What does that lipstick taste of?" and "Woman Stanley, woman" set to music.
The production garnered mixed reviews. The Guardian said that “The show juggles poignancy and brass, hit and often miss” and while praising the “wonderful” dialogue and “nostalgic gold in old phrases like 'chuckie egg', and 'fur coat with no knickers'” but did state that it was in danger of becoming just another vehicle for Paul O’Grady. What’s On Stage said “too many cooks spoil the hotpot, so this ambitious musical ends up being a bit of a mess” and opined that "O'Grady is a fantastic live performer and to begin with - he is engaging and knows how to work an audience. But once in character, he often has to hang around during musical numbers - chipping in bits of dialogue. Soon, it starts to become irritating as it slows the (almost) narrative down. His scenes with Kavanagh are toe curlingly bad with incredibly dated humour and needs cutting."
They also criticised the short time allowed on stage to the main advertised stars such as Goodyear and Kennedy and said that Russell Watson’s surprise appearance with a song named Ghosts - Take My Hand at the end was “so cheesy that you think are watching Eurovision, and not in a good way”. They concluded “Sadly, Street of Dreams is in the wrong venues - too vast and due to poor sight lines (a show loved by millions in their front rooms is in an arena - epic fail) fails to give you any sense of connection, the show itself is overlong, the songs in the main are unmemorable and despite the gallant efforts of many of the performers…and a brilliant ensemble - it's 'boring, Ken!'”
The Daily Telegraph concluded “Occasional flashes of brilliance cannot cover the whiff of cynicism in this exercise – quality Street it ain’t.” even though they admitted that some of the audience thought it was a hit, something the Daily Mirror agreed with, even when pointing out that there were “Repeated sound problems and a script that seemed more cobbled together than constructed gave the whole thing a disappointingly dis-jointed feel.” The Stage said that after such a long gestation period “the end result is an overlong, confusing and disjointed proposition” and “shorn of any dramatic context, Trisha Ward’s otherwise engaging songs are overshadowed. And critically, the sharpest writing comes straight from the soap’s scriptwriters themselves, merely serving to remind you how consistently brilliant the real Coronation Street can be.”
On 15th May The Stage broke the news that the producers had announced the postponement of the forthcoming tour of arenas in Dublin, Belfast and Newcastle later in the month claiming they were “far from happy with the show artistically”. The show’s co-producer John Ward, from Reckless Entertainment, said he was postponing the dates planned for later this month because he and his production team, “are far from happy with the show artistically and we are not prepared to take it out again in its present form”. He added: “We will be re-working the show for dates later in the year.” Ward admitted the show had “been a very rocky ride” but added that “the upside is that we had a terrific reaction from the fans on both Wednesday and Thursday night and an improved show certainly has the potential to go on and be a long running hit. We had some mixed reviews but also some raves. But it needs to be changed.”
He said he and the show’s composer, Trisha Ward, would be “doing everything in our power to make this a smoother ride from now on”. In his email, Ward moved to allay fears about payment of those involved. He said that he would be in touch with those involved "individually shortly regarding matters financial. People will be paid but we do need a bit more patience and that may not be what you want to hear".
Even at that time Kym Marsh revealed on Irish Television that former co-star Keith Duffy would be joining her or the Dublin and Belfast dates, saying "At every show, we're going to have a special guest - at the end of the show - and they're going to sing along with the cast" but on 18th May Paul O’Grady spoke out, labeling the show “bedlam” and accusing the musical's producers of being “incompetent, inept and unprofessional” and that the majority of the cast had yet to be paid, he had been asked to “cobble stuff together” during the Manchester performances, the set was unfinished, and that cast members were asked to provide their own costumes for the show.
By September, O’Grady’s management company, BM Creative Management Limited, had begun legal proceedings against Reckless Entertainment in a bid to have them wound up through a court order. Two months later however, before this action could take effect, both Reckless and Street of Dreams Limited were put into administration due to financial difficulties with £97,488 owing to HSBC and an undisclosed amount to ITV plc.