We all have those moments when we can’t quite find the right words, when we are worried that things might come out wrong. In the title song to I Can’t Sing! Cynthia Erivo sings (superbly) about just that. I doubt, too, that I will be able to express plainly my views on the utter peculiarity of Harry Hill’s X Factor Musical.
I also imagine that the production team have had doubts about I Can’t Sing!’s delivery, due to the show’s issues over the past few weeks. The musical has been through a tough time since its first previews – technical problems have left audiences stuck in intervals for up to an hour whilst one performance was cut short when Act Two was cancelled last week. So, what will the critics make of the show after Press Night?
Janet Street-Porter has already written in The Independent that the musical passed her ‘ruthless exit strategy’, as she didn’t leave during the interval. She did, however, do this in The Book of Mormon, the show that has won countless awards and is, in my opinion, far superior to I Can’t Sing in plot, music and humour… Although I agree with Janet that I Can’t Sing! doesn’t warrant leaving at half-time, it is a show that frankly bamboozled me from start to finish, and not in a good way.
Steve Brown’s songs were the most triumphant aspect of the show by far. The tracks currently sitting on Soundcloud (‘If That’s Not Entertainment’, ‘I Can’t Sing’, ‘Please Simon’), don’t quite do the musical justice. Although the title track is the real belter that will be sung in the shower for weeks to come, there are many others that offer excellent opportunities to tap your feet. One scene shows people watching the show in their living rooms, on sofas that rise out of the stage, and the song includes the repeated lines ‘It’s a no, it’s a yes, it’s a no from me. It’s a yes, it’s a no, it’s a yes from me’. This basically encapsulates The X Factor’s entire audition period perfectly.
The cutesy track shared between Cynthia Erivo and Alan Morrissey (who stars as ukelele-playing Max) struck a tender chord with me as Hill portrays the early relationship of young lovers. The lines ‘I’m missing you already, what’s that all about?’ still rest in my memory. Sweet.
Equally entertaining at times was Kate Price’s choreography. Although not as slick as I have seen in other musicals such as Matilda or American Psycho, a particularly memorable scene was when Brenda from ‘Tesda’ (remember Tesco Mary from a few years back?) graces the stage with her checkout belts in tow. I appreciated watching the cast attempting to catch a variety of supermarket items in shopping baskets and pace along the treadmills. Simple, but effective.
My optimism was fuelled by Simon Bailey’s awesome imitation of Dermot O’Leary, or Liam O’Deary as the show calls him. Bailey has the presenter’s mannerisms down to a tee, and he even gets a whole song to talk about how he loves hugging people he doesn’t know. This overall optimism of mine dwindled several times during the musical, though, when I experienced things that were just plain strange.
Bizarre Moment No. 1 – During a song named ‘Uncomplicated Love’, a camp Nigel Harman tap-dances with girls ladened with feather boas against a backdrop that resembles a flower. Near the end of the tune, a phallic object erects from the centre, resembling a corpse flower (or something else, if you’re similarly minded). It was just weird.
**SPOILER** Bizarre Moment No. 2 – After meeting Shanice’s talking dog, her grandfather with the iron lung, and several other weird individuals, it comes to be that Simon Cowell isn’t actually a human being after all. He’s an alien, who has been sent down from Planet X to make as much money as possible. The show ends with the alien Simon getting into a spacecraft and flying above the audience. Not exactly the chandelier in Phantom of the Opera, I must say. It was just weird.
The script also left me perplexed at times. Not only did some lines just not make sense, but I found myself begging the characters to give me something to laugh at, amidst the rubble of try-hard humour.
The jokes are sometimes inappropriate and/or surreal, the story is both predictable yet full of randomness, and most of the songs are commendable for their lyrics and memorability. Granted, I was viewing a preview five days before press night, so there may be alterations before this Wednesday’s performances, but I doubt much will change where the overall plot is concerned – which is the most clumsy part of it all. It is, however, sure to be a hit with many X Factor fanatics or younger viewers. My thirteen-year-old sister loved it, saying ‘Ohmygod, I want to go see it again, like, now, and I want to download all the songs and sing it all the time, I just LOVED it.’
Unfortunately, it’s a no from me.