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'The X Factor' musical 'I Can't Sing!' gets mostly positive reviews from critics

"I Can't Sing!" stars Ashley Knight, Victoria Elliott, Nigel Harman and Simon Bailey
"I Can't Sing!" stars Ashley Knight, Victoria Elliott, Nigel Harman and Simon Bailey
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"The X Factor" stage musical "I Can't Sing!" has been getting mostly positive reviews from critics. The show (which officially opened on March 26, 2014, and closes on Oct. 25, 2014) is playing at the London Palladium in London.

On March 26, 2014, Simon Cowell and several stars from "The X Factor" and other celebrities attended the musical's opening night. Cowell (who was there with his girlfriend/baby mama Lauren Silverman) is one of the producers of this West End musical, whose book was written by former "TV Burp" star Harry Hill. The musical's songs were written by Hill and Steve Brown.

On Jan. 15, 2014, "I Can't Sing!" revealed its first official cast photos with the stars who play the judges in the musical: Nigel Harman (who plays the character of Simon, inspired by Simon Cowell), Ashley Knight (who plays the character of Louis, inspired by "X Factor" U.K. judge Louis Walsh) and Victoria Elliott (who plays Jordy, inspired by "X Factor" judge Cheryl Cole, who is a Geordie).

As previously reported, songs from "I Can't Sing!" got a sneak preview at the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium on Nov. 25, 2013. ITV televised the Royal Variety Performance on Dec. 9 2013.

"I Can't Sing!" follows the journey of an "X Factor" U.K. contestant named Chenice. In "I Can't Sing!," Chenice has a romance with fellow contestant Max. Cynthia Erivo plays Chenice, and Alan Morrissey plays Max.

Other "I Can't Sing!" cast members are:

  • Simon Bailey as "X Factor" host Liam O’Deary (inspired by real-life "X Factor" U.K. host Dermot O'Leary)
  • Billy Carter as "X Factor" U.K. executive producer Gerard Smalls (inspired by real-life "X Factor" executive producer Richard Holloway)
  • Simon Lipkin as Chenice’s faithful canine sidekick Barlow (inspired by former "X Factor" U.K. judge Gary Barlow)
  • Joe Speare as Chenice's iron-lung bound grandfather
  • Katy Secombe as supermarket checkout employee Brenda, an "X Factor" contestant (inspired by former "X Factor" U.K. 2010 contestant Mary Byrne, who was nicknamed Tesco Mary)
  • Charlie Baker as Trevor Mordo, a hunchback "X Factor" contestant
  • Shaun Smith and Rowen Hawkins as hyperactive Irish pop duo Alterboyz (inspired by Jedward, the Irish twin brothers who were on "The X Factor" U.K. in 2009).

Other cast members include 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.

News of "The X Factor" musical first broke in September 2011, when it was reported that Cowell had reached out to Hill to work on the musical.

According to the Daily Mirror, Cowell said that he did not interfere in the writing of the musical, which pokes fun at several "X Factor" stars, including Cowell: “The deal I made with Harry was ‘I’m not going to change a word.' It is what it is. If it looks like I had an influence, it won’t work.”

As previously reported, previews for "I Can't Sing!" (which began on March 5, 2014) were plagued with "technical difficulties" and delays.

But those problems were sorted out by opening night. Here is a sampling of reviews:

Daily Mirror

With top tunes, brilliant singing, and endless ridiculing of some of Britain’s most famous faces – will the X-Factor musical be a hit? One million per cent YES! Where else in the West End can you see a rapping hunchback, street-dancing altar boys and, of course, Simon Cowell ascending God-like from heaven? Oh yes, thanks to comedian Harry Hill, the writer of I Can’t Sing!, the music mogul is mocked from start to finish, crooning at one point: “Look at me, I’m on fire – I’m the God damn Messiah...” I Can’t Sing! is a modern-day version of the old variety show format - singing, dancing, gags, impersonations, even some ventriloquism in the form of Chenice’s companion, Barlow the Dog. (Wonder how Gary will feel about that?) It took a TV addict like Harry Hill to get the balance right and maybe it takes a phenomenon as big as X-Factor to get other TV addicts off their sofas and into a theatre in the first place. In the much ridiculed words of Simon Cowell: “I didn’t like it. I loved it!”

Digital Spy

"I Can't Sing!" has been dogged by pre-opening night problems - canceled shows, technical problems (understandable, given the truly impressive set) - but now that it's finally flung its doors open to the wider public, is it actually any good? Well, sometimes. But the first thing to know is that this is not your standard West End show - it's less musical, more flat out pantomime. Sometimes, the whole thing has the air of an over-excited school play put together by teenagers on too much sugar - inflating phallic symbols, rapping hunchbacks, over-enthusiastic squealing ... But hey, pantomimes can be an enjoyable evening's entertainment, and I Can't Sing! is sometimes entertaining on its own terms. (Rating 2.5 out of 5 stars)

The Express

Harry Hill’s knowing tease, directed by the ever-inventive Sean Foley and festooned with visual gags by designer Es Devlin, is smart, funny, foot-tapping and surprisingly hard-hitting beneath its cloak of reverence. It’s clear Cowell has decided that this is a winner and he’s better off clambering aboard than being left behind. The choreography, including a Busby Berkeley number where the staircase is a giant orchid with a suggestive inflatable stamen, sparkles with wit. The lamer gags are outweighed by good ones, such as the threesome who turn up in T-shirts spelling Soul Star but stand in the wrong order so it reads Arsoul St(reet) ... Engaging with low culture without taking its audience for fools, it’s by far the best of the big West End musical openings of the last few months.

The Guardian

Simon Cowell is listed as co-producer of this new musical which attempts to puncture both his ego and The X Factor. And that is one of the problems with the show: it seems uneasily pitched between send-up and celebration ... Not only do you feel a sledgehammer is being used to crack Cowell's walnuts: the musical's innate geniality means it lacks a killer blow. There are redeeming qualities ... I've had many worse evenings at musicals. But I fail to see the point of a show that doesn't know whether it wants to excoriate The X Factor or boost its TV ratings. (Rating 3 out of 5 stars)

The Hollywood Reporter

The chance to see Simon Cowell lampooned in a stage musical that he has co-produced himself is not the most appetizing pitch to most sane theatergoers, but the irreverent comedy spectacle I Can't Sing! is an unexpected delight. Love or loathe him, it is testament to Cowell's shrewd business sense that he can turn even his cartoonish public image as a sneering, profiteering egotist into a highly entertaining and potentially lucrative stage hit. Bursting with strong musical numbers, ingenious stage designs and a deep streak of Monty Python-style humor, I Can't Sing! leaves almost no breathing room for an audience to get bored.

The Independent

It's with some surprise that I must confess to having really rather enjoyed this £6m musical spoof concocted by comedian Harry Hill, composer Steve Brown and director Sean Foley. I'm not saying “I Can't Kvetch!” because there are all kinds of niggles and caveats – not least that the whole venture feels more than a tad belated. But there is a bonkers, surreal charm to the loopy lampooning and though the authors may not be wielding a stiletto, they are not brandishing a back-scratcher either. Nigel Harman's deliciously funny performance nails the narcissistic-android quality of the high-waisted pop mogul who chose a mirror as his Desert Island luxury.

The Telegraph

The show is wildly eccentric and often wonderfully funny. It is also splendidly rude about Cowell himself. In one of the early scenes we see the sinister svengali getting out of his car, before belatedly realising he has forgotten something. He opens the door and sheepishly brings out his new baby. Full marks for topicality ... "I Can’t' Sing" mixes the surreal and the satirical. The heroine is an orphaned teenage waif who lives in a caravan under a flyover with her grandfather who is confined in an iron lung. Her only friend is a talking dog, but then she meets a ukulele-playing plumber and the two of them decide to find fame and fortune on The X Factor. It’s not exactly West Side Story, but the performers give it all they’ve got, the designs are spectacular and the whole delightfully bonkers show has a winning wit and warmth about it in Sean Foley’s constantly engaging production. The songs by Steve Brown, with additional lyrics by Harry Hill, offer an exuberant pastiche of a huge range of styles. (4 out of 5 stars)


London now has two blockbuster-scale tuners shamelessly embracing bad taste and spoofing genres in song while being endorsed by the institutions they lampoon. The first (vastly superior) one is the smash hit “The Book of Mormon.” The newcomer is “I Can’t Sing,” based on Simon Cowell’s “The X Factor,” and as you’d expect from something co-produced by Cowell’s entertainment org, Syco, it’s more celebration than takedown. As sloppy as it is boisterous, it’s a splashy, flashy tonal mess that just about succeeds since, if you throw this many gags at fan-based audiences, enough of them will land.

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