In late February 2014, one of the West End’s biggest and most prestigious theatres will welcome audiences to the new musical I Can’t Sing, based on ITV’s tabloid-grabbing talent show The X Factor. Written by Harry Hill and with music and lyrics by Steve Brown, I can say that the majority of comments expressed on this new musical have been that of a surprised and derogatory nature. But why? Is it that after the abysmal Viva Forever frequent theatregoers are sensing a repeat embarrassment of a formulaic musical that feeds media-crazed fans? Or could it be that the trash-o-meter is going off the scale just with the thought of the circus frenzy that takes over our televisions for four months of the year moving into esteemed theatreland?
One of the few things we know of I Can’t Sing is that it claims to go behind the scenes to reveal the real antics of The X Factor including the reason why Simon Cowell’s trousers are so high! So it seems to be taking a satirical root. One issue with that idea is that satire is supposed to be fairly current whereas The X Factor has surely peaked by now and most of the people who watch it see it as a guilty pleasure and are savvy to the fact that it is to be taken with a pinch (or perhaps a handful) of salt and that whatever success that comes from it could be down to money-throwing producers and delirious fans just as much as it’s got to do with an act’s talent. Therefore, even if the title ‘I Can’t Sing’ evokes humour through the format being about a lack of musical talent it still doesn’t quite strike as truth-telling enough as it could be. Perhaps it should be called You Know I Can’t Sing But This Isn’t Really About Singing But Is Cheap Entertainment That Increases Ratings, but I can’t imagine that it would catch on!
The other problem with a satirical take on The X Factor is that a question is being raised over who is the real butt of the joke. With The X Factor logo stamped all over it and Simon Cowell’s production company SyCo acting as co-producers, it makes you wonder how satirical I Can’t Sing can be. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many jokes there are about the height of Simon Cowell’s trousers, because when those trousers have pockets stuffed with audience members’ cash, it begs the question of who’s really laughing.
Surely I should be giving a show that hasn’t even started previews yet a chance. A home-grown musical that brings with it the opportunity to entice audience members that don’t often go to the theatre should be welcomed and celebrated. However, if the format is as unoriginal and (dare I say it) low art as some audiences thought Viva Forever was then do we really want it? Are theatre box offices really crying out for TV executives to flood the West End with cruddy, end of the pier, sensationalised musicals? Or is the issue with recurrent theatregoers such as myself? Maybe there is a pompous feeling that the theatre is a club separate to the grubby, spectacular world of TV and that come February there will have to be a sign outside the Palladium asking customers to wipe their feet on the way in. I hope that’s not the case, but an interesting issue nonetheless.
At the moment, the saving grace to I Can’t Sing sounds like it could be Harry Hill. Despite being a household name and having a hit primetime ITV show, his comedy has remained successfully alternative. Therefore we can hope that by moving him from commercial television to commercial theatre he won’t lose any of his likable edginess or cheeky recklessness.
Director Sean Foley has had a hit in the past couple of years with Graham Linehan’s The Ladykillers but also a flop with the West End revival of Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw last summer but I still suspect the production is in safe hands with him. Overall, with Kate Prince’s choreography and Es Devlin’s design and no doubt a dedicated cast and company, I Can’t Sing could well be a first class production but it would have to be a huge hit with critics, X Factor audiences and theatre fans for it to do extremely well in my eyes. To conclude, we’ll have to wait until 2014 to see how well it is executed (and there’s definitely a double meaning in that last word).
I Can’t Sing – The X Factor Musical starts preview from 27th February 2014 at the London Palladium and preview tickets are on sale now.