The X Factor has hit our TV screens once again, and the viewing public are glued to what is now the show’s tenth series as another parade of ‘undiscovered stars’ and ‘talentless wannabes’ audition before the panel of judges in an attempt to become the next Big Thing. This latest series however, coincided with the launch of the X Factor-based new musical, I Can’t Sing! on 2nd September 2013 at RADA Studios. It was there that two of its leading cast members, Cynthia Erivo and Alan Morrissey, gave a debut performance of the title song penned for the show. Erivo, who recently gave a widely acclaimed performance in the hit Menier Chocolate Factory production of The Color Purple, will play the character of Chenice, a talented young hopeful who is auditioning following the death of her granddad. It’s aptly ironic to have a song called ‘I Can’t Sing’ performed by such a powerful and accomplished vocalist as she – which is of course, the whole point. Her flawed assertion that she can’t sing is pointed out to her by Morrissey during the course of the sing, accompanied by such tongue-in-cheek lyrics as: “I never knew, I didn’t think I could, thought I made Geri Halliwell look good.”
This week, fans were treated to a sneak peek at another three songs from the musical, each as entertainingly satirical as the first. ‘Please Simon’ is a company number which introduces a whole host of delusion auditionees delivering their sob stories and begging Simon Cowell for the chance to ‘realise their dream’; a familiar scene for regular viewers of the TV programme and one which is not handled with subtlety in this track, as evident with such lyrics as: “I’m not a face in the crowd, I want to make my kids proud, I won’t give in I’ll keep trying, every single member of my family is dying.” The second company number, ‘If That’s Not Entertainment’, mocks the reality entertainment industry that is fed by shows like The X Factor. A young Simon Cowell features throughout the song, singing of his ambition to one day become ‘Mr Mogul’. You can’t help but laugh when faced with such lyrics as: “Sometime in the future I will be king, I will have my puppets dance on a string, I’ll be in control of everything, I know my day’s gonna come. I will use the power of TV, finally fulfilling my destiny, people of the world will kneel before me, but I’ll be good to my mum.” Simon Cowell, who will be played by Nigel Harman in the production, commented at the press launch that he fully expected to ‘get it in the neck’, and judging by this musical sample, he wasn’t wrong. Alan Morrissey, who is set to play environmental campaigner/plumber Max, is also given an early opportunity to shine with his solo number, ‘I Wanna Be Like Bono’. As well as poking fun at Bono with such lyrics as: “I wanna be like Bono, I’m gonna put an end to wars, and wear dark glasses indoors,” Morrissey also gets to have digs at other artists as Robbie Williams, Chris Martin and Ed Sheeran, as well as “hell of a fella” Nelson Mandela, whose numerous achievements apparently pale when compared to his inability to hold a tune.
Composer and lyricist for the musical, Steve Brown, has created a score of witty, catchy songs. His lyrics might not be that imaginatively complex, but they certainly do raise a chuckle, which is what I Can’t Sing! would seem to be all about. I must admit that, despite my initial dismissive reaction to the creation of an X Factor musical, the more I hear, the more it seems to grow on me. Do I still think using a reality entertainment show masquerading as a singing competition, which panders to the growing obsession with a ‘celebrity culture’ and has become a phenomenon at the expense of the people who appear on there, is a good thing to base a musical on? No, not really. There have been a string of ‘popular fad’ musicals appearing recently, and I don’t think that’s necessarily beneficial to the future of the theatre industry. Also, it feels rather hypocritical to create an X Factor musical when, for years now, the term ‘musical theatre’ has been directed at contestants in a derogatory manner. That being said, I Can’t Sing! is clearly not a musical which takes itself too seriously and puts a big emphasis on parodying the show, and by extension, the society which made the show the huge success it is today. The X Factor continues to grow in popularity, and if it’s good enough entertainment for a TV audience, then why not a musical theatre audience?
I personally have always leaned more towards the more melodramatic, meaningful musical productions such as The Phantom of the Opera (my all-time favourite musical) than any other, but that’s to say I can’t enjoy them. I embrace a wide variety of musical theatre genres, and have had great nights out at such productions as We Will Rock You and Wicked. In fact, Lend Me A Tenor at the Gielgud Theatre remains one of my favourite experiences to date and is a textbook example of farcical comedy. Is I Can’t Sing! likely to be a long-lasting success like Phantom or Les Miserables? Probably not. Few musicals can hope for that kind of success, after all. Is it likely to be another victim of the ‘two-years-or-less curse’ that a lot of musicals have succumbed to? To be honest it’s too soon to tell, but going by the early signs, it’s already through to the next round and may just have what it takes to go all the way and become an X Factor star!
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
I Can’t Sing! opens at the London Palladium on 26th March 2013
(previews from 27th February).
Tuesday 17th September 2013