Any opening of a West End musical is a much-anticipated event, but the buzz around Harry Hill and Steve Brown’s new X Factor musical I Can’t Sing! at the London Palladium has reached a new level, not least because of reported technical problems during previews.
However, while the audience attending an evening performance on 17 March did not get to see Act II of the show, I am told the problems surrounding the changeover of set during the interval period have since been resolved. In fact, the switch can now be achieved in 25 minutes – fingers crossed.
While I Can’t Sing! doesn’t officially open until this week (Wednesday 26 March, to be exact), a small group of reporters and photographers were allowed in last Friday for an early look at some of the sets, a few musical excerpts and a brief Q&A with three of the cast.
Not surprisingly, producers Syco Entertainment and Stage Entertainment are not giving too much away about the look of the show, but first impressions suggest it will be both technically complex and creatively camp – just have a glance at the image taken by Musical Theatre Review’s Roy Tan during a short run-through of the number ‘Uncomplicated Love’.
The plot of I Can’t Sing! centres on Chenice (Cynthia Erivo), ‘the only girl in the world who has never heard of the X Factor’, who stumbles into the auditions, only to find stardom and love in the shape of her fellow contestant, Max (Alan Morrissey). On the road to celebrity she finds herself pitched against contestants of varying talent before a panel of instantly-recognisable judges: Nigel Harman as supremo Simon, Ashley Knight as the ever-positive boyband manager Louis and Victoria Elliot as pop queen Jordy. Simon Bailey plays X Factor host Liam O’Deary, while Billy Carter is executive producer and Simon’s right hand man, Gerard Smalls
It was Erivo and Morrissey, along with Simon Lipkin who plays Chenice’s faithful canine sidekick Barlow, who joined us for a Q&A.
All three were asked what their view was on the kind of instant fame X Factor-like talent shows provide:
Lipkin: “I don’t mind X Factor-style programmes. They are hardly a new fangled thing, there have always been talents shows on TV in some shape or form. I think if someone is talented at what they do, are serious about it, and want to work hard, then why not?”
Erivo: “It’s easy to forget that some people don’t have the same opportunities as others to get a break, these shows provide them with a real chance to make an impression.”
Morrissey: “I was fortunate to get support and a scholarship, so from the age of 14 most of my training was free. That made all the difference to me. I can see why people want to go on these shows.”
So are they having fun, and is it difficult not to corpse on stage?
Lipkin: “We’re having a lot of fun and are not always succeeding at stopping ourselves from laughing, there are so many funny, creative people around us. But there is a freedom about the show which allows us to take the comedy to the audience, and if things go wrong, the audience go with that and we all have a laugh.”
So, could anyone describe the show which I have heard is both ‘bonkers’ and ‘Python-esque’?
Lipkin: “Harry Hill was walking through the auditorium the other night and he heard a member of the audience comment: ‘I’ve never taken LSD, but I imagine that’s what it would have been like.’
* Also in the cast of I Can’t Sing! are Joe Speare as Chenice’s irong-lung bound Grandad, Katy Secombe as supermarket checkout chanteuse Brenda, Charlie Baker as The Hunchback and Shaun Smith and Rowen Hawkins as hyperactive Irish pop duo Alterboyz.
The ensemble is completed by Luke Baker, Adam J Bernard, Jenna Boyd, Cyrus Brandon, Gabrielle Brooks, Scarlette Douglas, Kelly Ewins, Scott Garnham, Cherelle Jay, Faisal Khodaukus, Jaye Marshall, Brian McCann, Max Parker, Joseph Prouse, Steven Serlin, Kirstie Skivington, Philippa Stefani, Gary Trainor and Alex Young.
Double Olivier Award-winning Sean Foley directs, while Es Devlin and Kate Prince take charge of design and choreography respectively.
Check out a video of ‘Uncomplicated Love’ (with thanks to ‘Confessions of a Theatregirl’)