So doctor-turned-comedian Harry Hill has decided to write a musical based not-at-all loosely on industry beast Simon Cowell’s The X Factor – and my oh my, what an experience it is.
Hill’s previous endeavours include the successful TV Burp, in which he poked fun at pretty much every show on British television – a concept that, on the face of it, was an incredibly stupid yet very, very funny one, with an innocent light-heartedness at its mentally juicy centre. Upon being asked about this musical, Simon Cowell has stated that Hill was always the right person to undertake such a project as he didn’t want it to come across as pompous or taken too seriously. Cowell certainly got his wish because I Can’t Sing! is as ridiculous as they come, and watching it is like being swallowed up by the enormous mouth that forms much of the show’s set and transported (somehow) to the very wacky brain of Hill. This is evidently a project that he has had a hefty amount of input in.
The basis of the story is what you would expect from a mickey take of The X Factor. There’s much emphasis on the back stories and sob stories we have become accustomed to, a clear stand-out winner (played by the phenomenal Cynthia Erivo), a love story, obsession with aesthetics over real talent and, of course, the judges. Forgettable songs from Steve Brown come thick and fast, though some of them I recall enjoying at the time and the colourful and overwhelming collection of characters requires too much for a human being to keep track of. This isn’t a musical, it’s a full-blown pantomime.
The major pull of I Can’t Sing is to see ex-Eastender Nigel Harman play Simon Cowell. For a show with as much hype as this one, the ‘celeb’ addition has to be extraordinary and, unfortunately, Harman does not come even remotely close to this. His likeness to Cowell isn’t awful and in fact he is generally OK, but his exhausted performance of ‘Fabulous’ is somewhat confusing. He trudges around the stage looking absolutely knackered and, for a seasoned pro, this isn’t really acceptable.
Victoria Elliot’s Jordy has some cracking lines (all of which end in “pet”) and she does a belting performance of one of my ‘memorable songs at the time’ – ‘Falling in Love with Myself’. I lol’d several times at Elliot but can’t help feeling that after a first sitting, she could become tiring (pet). Simon Lipkin’s guardian angel puppet dog Barlow lends a generously comedic – albeit ironic – touch to a show that he appears in much of. His “this isn’t Warhorse” comment not only aids the show’s tone but cleverly plays into the hearts of the audience. Erivo’s Chenice has an awesome voice that (forgive the insane amount of corniness) actually sent shivers up my spine, and with a range that terrifies she commands everyone’s attention whenever she belts out a tune.
Harry Hill and director Sean Foley’s attack on Cowell’s horrifically shallow empire appeals to me greatly, but because of this show’s overtly OTT nature, I can’t help feeling that any serious connotations to do with society’s flaws are completely overlooked. Hill is a funny man but creating something on this scale, based solely on what he personally finds hilarious, is pretty annoying, with Es Devlin’s mind-blowing set designs not even being able to rescue it. Just like a show such as We Will Rock You, I Can’t Sing has an unfavourable storyline but the former are inevitably saved by the songs… This is not going to be a classic and I highly doubt it will last beyond being the British public’s latest fad.
I Can’t Sing! is playing at the London Palladium until 25 October. For more information and tickets, see the I Can’t Sing! website.