Review Roundup: I CAN'T SING: THE X FACTOR MUSICAL
I Can't Sing! The X Factor Musical opened tonight, March 26 at the London Palladium. 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.
A bonkersly-brilliant night out for musical theatre lovers of all ages, I CAN'T SING! stars Olivier-Award winning stage and screen actor Nigel Harman (Shrek the Musical; Downton Abbey; EastEnders) as Simon, with Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple; Sister Act) and Alan Morrissey (RSC; Shakespeare's Globe; Holby City; Endeavour) as love-struck hopefuls Chenice and Max.
I CAN'T SING! is written by comedy superstar Harry Hill (3 BAFTAs; 7 British Comedy Awards and a Golden Rose of Montreux) and award-winning composer Steve Brown (Spend, Spend, Spend; Spitting Image; Alan Partridge).
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Charles Spencer, The Telegraph: It has long seemed to me that The X Factor represents almost everything that is revolting about modern Britain...But as I made my way to the Palladium for this new musical based on The X Factor, of which Cowell is one of the lead producers, I had a tiny flicker of hope in my heart. I Can't Sing has been written by Harry Hill, a comedian of genius in my view, who in his wonderful television series TV Burp somehow turned telly dross into comic gold. Would he be capable of a similar trick of theatrical alchemy here? The answer is a definite yes. The show is wildly eccentric and often wonderfully funny. It is also splendidly rude about Cowell himself...Like all Hill's best work, I Can't Sing mixes the surreal and the satirical...It's not exactly West Side Story, but the performers give it all they've got, the designs are spectacular and the whole delightfully bonkers show has a winning wit and warmth about it...The show may be too raucous and vulgar for some, but I Can't Sing strikes me as a big popular hit blessed with real heart and great theatrical panache.
Michael Coveney, Whatsonstage: The last West End poster with a big red mouth and pearly white teeth on it was for Beckett's Not I. And now here comes the X Factor show with a similar design motif, speared with an exclamation mark that implies the opposite of keeping mum. The mouth comes to pulsating life when Cynthia Erivo as Chenice, an attractive no-hoper who lives with her bed-bound grandpa in a caravan under a flyover - the first West End musical flyover since Whistle Down the Wind - bursts into the title song in her audition. She hadn't seen, or heard of, the X Factor as grandpa's iron lung was plugged into the one socket they possess. Their life was unsullied by Simon.
Michael Billington, Guardian: Nigel Harman as Cowell exudes impenetrable self-regard, not least in a number hymning what he calls Uncomplicated Love. And there is decent support from Simon Lipkin as a talking dog, Billy Carter as a camp TV producer and Simon Bailey as an oleaginous Irish host. I've had many worse evenings at musicals. But I fail to see the point of a show that doesn't know whether it wants to excoriate The X Factor or boost its TV ratings.
Simon Edge, Express: Harry Hill's knowing tease, directed by the ever-inventive Sean Foley and festooned with visual gags by designer Es Devlin, is smart, funny, foot-tapping and surprisingly hard-hitting beneath its cloak of reverence...Cowell himself is heralded as a virile love god - with health warnings that women can get pregnant just by looking at him - but is played in a great comic performance by Nigel Harman as a waddling preener who can barely talk through his dental implants...Engaging with low culture without taking its audience for fools, it's by far the best of the big West End musical openings of the last few months.
Paul Taylor, The Independent: ...it's with some surprise that I must confess to having really rather enjoyed this £6m musical spoof concocted by comedian Harry Hill, composer Steve Brown and director Sean Foley. I'm not saying "I Can't Kvetch!" because there are all kinds of niggles and caveats - not least that the whole venture feels more than a tad belated. But there is a bonkers, surreal charm to the loopy lampooning and though the authors may not be wielding a stiletto, they are not brandishing a back-scratcher either...Nigel Harman's deliciously funny performance nails the narcissistic-android quality of the high-waisted pop mogul who chose a mirror as his Desert Island luxury.
Edward Seckerson, TheArtsDesk.com: The names have been changed to protect the guilty but half the fun of I Can't Sing! - the so-called X-Factor musical - lies in the relentless spoofing of a show we love to hate and a format so unremittingly predictable that its contestants, judges, and host now read like characters from a, well, musical. Put Harry Hill on the job and you know he's going to throw enough gags at the subject for at least a handful to stick and were this an anarchic fringe offering with a cast of six and a budget low enough to render it inventive by necessity then you'd have more chance of leaving the venue with a smile on your face and a little surplus cash in your pocket. But this is the West End - the Palladium for heaven's sake - and when you see so much money squandered on a monumental piss-take of the biggest money-spinning franchise in the history of the world then the nausea from the pit of your stomach rises up into your throat with the realisation that it's actually Simon Cowell and his producers that are taking the piss by hoping that box office receipts as opposed to premium phone line revenues will keep money from the waning franchise rolling in. But the British public aren't that gullible, are they?
Alan Franks, LondonTheatre1.com: Well, it's not as bad as you might have feared, or hoped, depending on your relationship with Simon Cowell. Nor is it as good as the mighty machinery of advance praise would have had you believe. If this sounds like damnation with faint praise, that's possibly because it is. I Can't Sing is OK. This conclusion hardly amounts to the coveted "Three Yesses" refrain of the TV talent show, but at a time when West End musicals by giants of the genre are crashing and burning in the wastelands of audience indifference, OK is not to be sneezed at.
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard: Harry Hill is immersed in the absurdities and excesses of TV, so he was a perfect choice to write a musical based on The X Factor. The result is an unashamedly populist show that's laced with satirical glee. When Simon Cowell first appears he's an ambitious child devising crafty ways of earning money. He soon transforms into the familiar pop svengali, but instead of presiding over Saturday night slickness, Nigel Harman's preening Cowell gets caught in a torrent of demented weirdness.