A musical about the X-Factor is the type of thing you would imagine being at home at the Edinburgh Festival or in a room above a pub in Camden. It is not what you expect to be the new, big-budget show at the London Palladium. A show that is so big budget, in fact, that the first few previews had to be cancelled due to technical problems, and the interval is still half an hour long to enable a set change. The set (by Es Devlin) is, indeed, huge and fantastic, and its impact is significantly helped by some lavish costumes by Leah Archer, and some inventive and often funny video projections by Treatment Visual Productions. However, is all of this money simply polishing a turd? Without all of this glitz is the show a worthwhile, enjoyable piece of theatre? The answer is a resounding yes!
Don’t get me wrong – ‘I Can’t Sing!’ has its faults and most of them fall at the feet of the book writer Harry Hill. The show is well constructed and there is no denying that it is funny, but too often the comedy falls flat. Several gags need replacing and, indeed, several plot lines and characters could do with cutting. There is a Jedward take-off in the form of The Altazboyz (played by Rowen Hawkins and Shaun Smith). Admittedly, they are significantly less annoying than Jedward themselves but their storyline is pointless and clutters up an already over-busy plot. I would simply cut them. I would also cut most of the Simon Cowell backstory and certainly the ludicrously unfunny ending. This may work in the hands of a great comic (though I doubt it) but in the hands of Nigel Harman as Simon it falls flat. Harman, who was so brilliant as the diminutive Lord Farquaad in Shrek, seems out of place here. He cannot do an impression of Cowell and, unfortunately, an excellent ensemble whose impressions are brilliant, surrounds him. His singing is also (to coin an X-Factor phrase) “pitchy” to say the least.
However, Harman lives in the shadows cast by the rest of the ensemble. The star of the show for me is Simon Bailey as the Dermot O’Leary character Liam O’Deary. His impression is spot on and he works the crowd like a good stand-up comic. Coming a close second is Cynthia Erivo as Chenice around whom the plot revolves. In the midst of all this farce her essentially straight performance is a much needed palate cleanser and her singing (especially of the title song) is simply beautiful. Also strong are Billy Carter as Simon’s effete manager Gerrard Smalls, Delroy Atkinson as a Jamaican security guard, Joseph Prouse as an Undertaker straight out of Oliver Twist and Charlie Baker as a Hunchback. The latter flirted with some politically incorrect jokes and I feel Hill needs to commit to these and expand upon them. It also wouldn’t hurt making Baker’s character bigger as he is hilarious. A role that could also do with some expanding is that of Louis. The excellent Ashley Knight makes the most of the limited material but the role is basically a one-gag part which is a shame.
As Welsh Shirley-Bassey-hating checkout girl Brenda, Sir Harry’s now not so little girl Katy Secombe is hilarious and her number (which includes dancing on conveyer belts) is a highlight. Indeed, all of Kate Prince’s excellent choreography is impactful and inventive, as are Steve Brown’s very-hummable and often very funny songs.
Will ‘I Can’t Sing’ run? I doubt it, but it is well worth a look and I defy anyone to leave the London Palladium without a smile on their face.
Review by David Phipps-Davis
I Can’t Sing The X Factor Musical
Irreverent, mischievous, packed full of side-splittingly funny songs and eye-popping sets, I CAN’T SING! is the irrepressible new musical comedy that goes behind the microphones and under the judges’ desks to reveal big bust-ups, huge voices and the cutest young love story the West End has ever seen.
Cast: Nigel Harman – Simon, Cynthia Erivo – Chenice, Alan Morrissey – Max, Simon Bailey – Liam, Charlie Baker – Hunchback, Billy Carter – Gerrard Smalls, Victoria Elliott – Jordy, Ashley Knight – Louis, Simon Lipkin – Barlow, Katy Secombe – Brenda, Joe Speare – Grandpa, Delroy Atkinson – Security Guard / Ensemble, Peter Dickson – The voice of Peter Dickson, Rowen Hawkins – Alterboyz / Ensemble, Joseph Prouse – Undertaker / Ensemble, Steven Serlin – Vladimir / Ensemble, Shaun Smith – Alterboyz / Ensemble, Alex Young – Brunhilde / Ensemble, Luke Baker – Ensemble, Adam J Bernard – Swing, Jenna Boyd – Ensemble, Cyrus Brandon – Ensemble, Gabrielle Brooks – Ensemble, Scarlette Douglas – Ensemble, Kelly Ewins-Prouse – Dance Captain / Swing, Scott Garnham – Ensemble, Cherelle Jay – Ensemble, Faisal Khodabukus – Swing, Brian McCann – Swing, Jaye Marshall – Ensemble, Max Parker – Swing, Kirstie Skivington – Swing, Philippa Stefani – Ensemble, Gary Trainor – Ensemble, Finlay Banks – Young Simon, Noah Key – Young Simon, Macready Massey – Young Simon, Milo Panni – Young Simon
Selected Creatives: Harry Hill – Book and additional Lyrics, Steve Brown – Music and Lyrics, Sean Foley – Director, Kate Prince – Choreographer, Es Devlin – Production Designer, Leah Archer – Costume Design, Jon Clark – Lighting Designer, Gareth Owen – Sound Designer
I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical at the London Palladium
Opening Night 26th March 2014
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 2.00pm
Content updated 3rd June 2014