The demise of X Factor parody I Can’t Sing! – the third original West End musical to announce its closure in less than two months – is being blamed by critics on a combination of marketing, preparation and changing audience tastes.
Co-producers Stage Entertainment UK and Simon Cowell’s Syco Productions (Cowell is believed to have lost £4 million on the production) have given notice that the Harry Hill and Steve Brown-penned show, starring Nigel Harman and Cynthia Erivo, will complete its last performance at the London Palladium on 10 May.
By then it will have played fewer than seven weeks – a far shorter time than the seven months achieved by the critically panned Spice Girls tribute Viva Forever!
Cowell himself had said at its launch that I Can’t Sing! would need to equal Viva’s run before it could count itself a success. Yet despite receiving a far better response from many reviewers, it failed to come close to that figure.
Stage Entertainment chief executive Rebecca Quigley acknowledged that the production’s good to lukewarm reception had not been enough to save it: “The West End can be an unpredictable place as the closure of a number of high profile productions recently has shown.
“I Can’t Sing! has had audiences on their feet night after night, four and five star reviews from the critics and an amazing company and creative team, but it seems that isn’t always enough.”
Theatre critics and commentators have offered their own theories for its demise.
Writing in the Guardian, Mark Lawson cited a confusion over “target and tone” in a show bankrolled by Cowell, the very person it set out to parody.
Lawson too questioned whether writer Hill’s idea had come ten years too late to cash in on the reality show boom but added: “I have never previously felt sorry for the end of any project backed by Simon Cowell, but I Can’t Sing! – and, especially, director Sean Foley and a cast that gave everything to the last – deserved better.”
He added that the West End’s two other original musicals to close early in recent months – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward and Tim Rice’s From Here to Eternity – struggled to resonate with a younger audience because their subject matter was ‘distant history’.
For Mark Shenton in The Stage and former WhatsOnStage chief Terri Paddock, the question was whether I Can’t Sing! had been adequately prepared for its debut.
Said Shenton: “My own suspicion [was] that the show was rushed into production before it was necessarily ready. The workshop was in January 2013; and just over a year later, it began performances at the Palladium.”
Paddock commented that the show appeared “dangerously under-rehearsed”, with audience members “disengaged”, but also highlighted the enormous challenge of filling the immense, 2,000-plus seat Palladium.
Musical Theatre Review’s own critic, Paul Vale, meanwhile said I Can’t Sing! faced a challenge to market itself to those most likely to appreciate its satirical edge without dismaying diehard X Factor fans: “If you have been happily living in that bubble where The X Factor is not part of your life, you will find it difficult to actually care about any of the characters, let alone understand the constant satirising of its presenters, format and conventions.
“However, if for half the year your Saturday evenings are spent glued to the TV in awe of the competition afoot, then you may feel slightly disappointed at how mercilessly you are lampooned on stage.
“Falling somewhere between the two, I Can’t Sing! may well struggle to find an audience, which is a shame as original musicals are few and far between and Brown’s score has so much that is worthy of success.”
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I Can’t Sing! – London Palladium – Review
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