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A CurtainUp London London Review
I Can't Sing

"Half the people of the world follow me on Twitter" — Simon
I Can't Sing
Nigel Harman as tap dancing Simon (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
They said that London didn't have room for another X Factor musical after the near disaster that was Viva Forever with The Spice Girls' backlist, but comedian Harry Hill has penned a musical comedy based on all the characters and scenarios from the popular televisual reality singing contest. Add Cynthia Erivo the singer who delighted us all in The Color Purple, award winning Shrek Lord Farquaad, Nigel Harman as Simon Cowell, Steve Brown the composer of Spend Spend Spend and things were starting to look promising.

This musical has comedy at its heart although, on the second viewing last week, I was starting to believe in the romance between Chenice (Cynthis Erivo) and plumber and green eco singer Max (Alan Morrissey). Sean Foley and Harry Hill's I Can't Sing is more about jokes than romantic outcomes.

A London suburban house has schoolboy Simon (Noah Key) trying to devise a way to make money and a stageful of boys in school uniform dance variations of the figure X with arm movements crossing and recrossing in "If That's Not Entertainment."

"It Could Be Me" has a line of hopefuls who want to be contestants in the X Factor. Our favourites are there, the Susan Boyle-alike (although she was discovered on another Simon Cowell show Britain's Got Talent) Katie Secombe playing supermarket cashier Brenda, Steven Serlin as Vladimir based on the posing Wagner and a pair, Altarboys, Irish zany boys with a nod to Jedward, the twins from Ireland.

Chenice lives in a caravan under the motorway with her grandfather (Joe Speare) who is encased in an iron lung which runs from the sole electric socket in the caravan. This means that in order to boil the kettle or make toast Grandpa has to be momentarily switched off. Their pet dog Barlow (Avenue Q veteran Simon Lipkin) has plenty of comic material for this poverty struck family who live off road kill.

So to the auditions for the X Factor and Liam O'Deary (Simon Bailey) delighted me in his imitation of Dermott O'Leary the animated compère of the real show with his spinning agility with the microphone and his hugging personality. Simon Bailey's performance will bring a smile to your face.

Armed with a Tazer, Billy Carter plays Simon's protector and producer Gerrard Smalls in high, and very funny, camp. Simon arrives in half a yellow Rolls Royce topically carrying the new baby Eric in a baby carrier and the crowd sing "Please Simon". Brenda will sing "All Woman" with choreography seeing her seductively stretched out on a supermarket till moving belt. Poor Grandpa passes on and Chenice goes to the Victorian undertakers in a scene from Oliver!.

Chenice who has scientific ambitions believes that she can't sing but her show stopping number with its ironic allusions to musical ability "I Can't Sing" is stand out musically, a lovely tune and singing to die for. She is joined by Max in a duet where he sings, "You Can Sing".

Comedian Charlie Baker plays Trevor Modo in a character based on the Hunchback of Notre Dame in a wig giving him more than a passing resemblance to Andrew Lloyd Webber meets Richard III. In a scene with break dancing monks, this is reminiscent of that strange French Canadian musical Notre Dame de Paris. Interestingly the ALW joke I heard at preview was left out. ALW owns the London Palladium, the musical's home.

Max and Chenice sing "Missing You Already" a lovely ballad with textspeak captions. The First Act closes with the nation on sofas for "X Factor Fever" as the audience gather with popcorn to watch the progression through the Judges' Houses to the Live Shows.

Act Two opens with a number reminiscent of Jerry Springer the Opera as an army of gold breast-plated Valkyries greet Simon, patron saint of fame, lowered from Heaven to a stirring mock operatic chorus. We meet the other judges Jordy (Victoria Elliot) a singer from the north-east and from Ireland, Louis (Ashley Knight). Simon's tap routine with the Tiller Girls (at least two of these Tiller girls are boys) is stylish. Altarboys give us a Riverdance spoof before Jordy's publicity fuelled mission to split up Chenice and Max. A scene in the shower: Max the plumber mending a tap with Jordy looks like the Rocky Horror sex scene behind the smoked glass. Grandpa comes back in a scene from Ghost or even Hamlet to remind Chenice of her priorities. Chenice gives a Beyoncé concert finale. Again Cynthia Erivo has a magnificent voice. Max sings the pretty tune, "The Song I Wrote For You". There is an ironic twist with Trevor Modo reappearing and a largely irrelevant but spectacular finish!

The sets are colourful and many, the lighting fabulous for this tongue in cheek pastiche of a show. It's great fun identifying the stolen moments from other shows. Cynthia Erivo is a singing sensation but Simon Bailey's Liam O'Deary was so brilliant that I wanted to take him home with me!

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I Can't Sing
Music and Lyrics by Steve Brown
Book and additional lyrics by Harry Hill
Directed by Sean Foley

Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Nigel Harman, Alan Morrissey, Simon Bailey, Billy Carter, Victoria Elliott, Ashley Knight, Simon Lipkin, Katy Secombe, Joe Speare, Charlie Baker
With: Delroy Atkinson, Rowen Hawkins, Joseph Prouse, Steven Serlin, Shaun Smith, Alex Young, Luke Baker, Finlay Banks, Adam J Bernard, Jenna Boyd, Cyrus Brandon, Gabrielle Brooks, Scarlette Douglas, Kelly Ewins-Prouse, Scott Garnham, Cherelle Jay, Noah Key, Faisal Khodabukus, Brian McCann, Jaye Marshall, Macready Massey, Milo Panini, Max Parker, Kirstie Skivington, Philippa Stefani, Gary Trainor, Peter Dickson's voice
Set Design: Es Devlin
Choreography by Kate Prince
Illusionist: Scott Penrose
Costume Design: Leah Archer
Lighting Design: Jon Clark
Sound Design: Gareth Owen
Sound Effects: Ben and Max Ringham
Musical Supervisor and Vocal Arranger: Phil Bateman
Orchestrations and Musical Arrangements: Chris Egan
Video Design by Treatment Visual Productions
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 0844 811 0058
Booking to 25th October 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th February 2014 performance at The London Palladium, Argyll Street, London W1A 3AB (Tube: Oxford Circus)

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • "If That's Not Entertainment"
  • "It Could Be Me"
  • "Life Is Lovely"
  • "Please Simon"
  • "All Woman"
  • "I Can't Sing!"
  • "Better Than That"
  • "The Hugging Song"
  • "Missing You Already"
  • "X Factor Fever"
Act Two
  • "Here Come The Judges"
  • "Uncomplicated Love"
  • "Falling In Love With Myself"
  • "Make A Wish … It Happens"
  • "Fabulous"
  • "A Song I Wrote For You"
  • "X-Tasy"
  • "Journey to A Dream "
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