BWW Reviews: I CAN'T SING!, London Palladium, March 26 2014
What great fun!
I Can't Sing! (at the London Palladium) tells the tale of Chenice and Max, a girl with dreams of university study and a boy with dreams of her. Together they find love - and a slot in the X Factor Final! Of course, it's the X Factor factor that gives writer Harry Hill the chance to poke fun - sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently - at the TV monolith and, especially, at its mephistophelian master, Simon Cowell.
Lesser performers would be drowned by Es Devlin's brilliantly designed sets in this grand old theatre, but young leads Cynthia Erivo and Alan Morrissey sing spectacularly well and show an old pro's comic timing when the laughs start to flow. Most of those laughs come from barely concealed parodies of familiar faces and the trademark quirky eccentric style of Mr Hill. Nigel Harman is an eerily Cowellesque Cowell; Victoria Elliott a glamourpuss judge called Jordy (geddit?) and Ashley Knight a barely conscious Irishman called Louis. Even their fine turns are upstaged by a wickedly accurate evocation of a certain TV host - Simon Bailey's Liam O'Deary is worth the ticket price alone!
Steve Brown provides an eclectic range of songs which, with the exception of Ms Erivo's showstopper that gives the show its name, may not prove to be classics, but all are easy on the ear (even the gangsta rap number)! Many are sung by a very strong support cast in which Katy Secombe's SuBo-ish Brenda is the standout. Somewhere between the backstories, the backstabbing and the backing out, there's room for a talking dog (Simon Lipkin commenting on the action in a style familiar to fans of Harry Hill's TV work) and some wonderfully inventive video projections from Treatment. All the backers' money - some of it from Simon Cowell himself - is up there on the stage for us to see.
Our heroine may live under a flyover in the shadows of planes descending to Heathrow, but this is no Westway Side Story. While we enjoy the tunes and the chuckles, it gently pokes us to consider the nature of instant fame, the peculiar foibles of showbiz folk and the (dare I say?) grammar of the Cowell ouevre. But mainly it's a feelgood musical that keeps the entertainment coming. The audience gave their verdict: and it wasn't just three "Yeses" for I Can't Sing, it was 2000 or so - mine included.