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I Can’t Sing: The X Factor Musical! Does it have the X Factor? – The London Palladium – 3.5 stars
Aliens… Vikings…. Leprechauns… Geordies… Backstories… Talking Dog Puppet… Giant Fly… Personified Wind… and Cowell. Potentially the most random musical you will see on London’s West End this year is here in the form of I Can’t Sing – The X Factor Musical.
When the final number finished I turned to my friend and said ‘I have no idea where to start writing on this one…’ It was one of the most bizarre musicals to appear on London’s West End that I have ever been invited to. It’s different, and perhaps not to the taste of your typical theatre goer, but the show’s strength lies in its cast as opposed to the show itself.
It’s starkly slapstick, chock-a-block with cheesy jokes, and has some of the oddest points of emphasis and melodrama you are likely to see this year. In terms of the writing, it is very basic. A standard linear story line with shallow characters and no real leading protagonist. Some may argue that there is the heroine and hero in the form of Chenice (Cynthia Erivo) and Max (Alan Morrissey), but what the story lacks is any engagement as the focus shifts so swiftly that it’s hard to determine any chronological plot. As a result, it is unclear whether this musical is satirising The X Factor or singing the tune of the Cowell Fan Club.
However, all the characters in the show have their moment to step into the spotlight, which shows individual strengths but diminishes the storyline as we lose sight of Chenice and Max. One minute they are auditioning, the next they are in the finals, and Chenice has gone from do-gooder and hopeless hoper to star-studded pop star princess. It jars.
However, when Chenice does take to the stage, she does make sure she’s the only one that your eyes fall to. Cynthia Erivo has an astounding voice which is first showcased during the ironically named ‘I Can’t Sing’ where her character Chenice claims she has no singing ability, a sentiment in contrast to the real show which is typically laden with people who believe they are a lot better than they actually are.
One for us Vada boys (and girls) is Alan Morrissey as Max. The doting, honest, and friendly northerner has a beautiful voice and you can’t help being instantly drawn to him. Aside from being easy on the eyes, Morrissey keeps true to his character throughout and his comic timing is great in making him a strong leading character, despite the restrictions of the plot.
What is important about this show is that the actors really embrace the cheesy nature of the show. If they didn’t, it would fall apart. The cast have such a strong stage presence and energy between them and the vocal harmonies at moments are really incredible. I must say though, the judges’ song at the opening of Act Two was the exception to this as it was too weak for an act opener. It made me feel like I was in a school pantomime.
When the initial scene opens for Chenice and we see her grandfather with an iron lung living in a caravan underneath a London bypass, it is instantly obvious that this show is a satirical comedy. And then, there’s the talking dog, Barlow (puppeteered by Simon Lipkin.) When I first saw this it took me a moment to realise that Simon wasn’t actually in the show as himself or an actor. But you quickly realise that he is actually one of the most comical characters in the entire show. His dry humour, physical comedy, and character extension from puppet to Simon himself is great! He is likely to be a favourite to all that see the show.
Another character worthy of a mention in terms of comedy and character creation is Simon Bailey as the Dermot-O’Leary-Would-Be presenter Liam O’Deary. The physical representation and acting choices that Mr Bailey has made are the perfect blend of accurate impersonation and satirical melodrama that create a character that keeps us laughing throughout.
The writing does have its merits at points. Comical jibes at Cheryl Cole (in the form of the character Jordy) and Louis Walsh had the audience in giggles and the sarcastic one liners from the dog Barlow kept the show ticking along.
Overall, the production is very brave and different whilst very cliched. Maybe that’s what the West End needs right now, something with a certain X Factor – however, I’m not sure if it is in the form of I Can’t Sing. The merits of this show lie with the cast. This is a massively ensemble reliant show and they do not disappoint. Leading roles Cynthia and Max are a treat to watch and definitely put the name of the show to rest, as they definitely can sing!