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 The Theatreguide.London Review

I Can't Sing!
London Palladium   March-May 2014

The only real question about a Good Night Out musical like this is whether it respects its audience and gives value for money. And the answer with I Can't Sing! is a definite Yes. 

It's not great art, it does not illuminate the human condition, and none of its peppy songs are likely to have any life out of the show. But it is witty and clever and tuneful, its creators (book and some lyrics by Harry Hill, songs by Steve Brown) not cynically searching for the least they can get away with giving the once-a-year theatregoer, but delivering more than might have been expected in invention and execution. 

The musical is built on a parody of the TV talent show The X Factor, such an easy and already self-parodying target that Harry Hill can't have worked up too much of a sweat creating his versions of money-grubbing self-obsessed Simon, brainless sexpot Jordi, geriatric Louis or unctuous host Liam O'Deary. 

But Hill shows his audience the honour of recognising that they also know that the real-life figures are ridiculous, and so the parodies are full of self-referential 'Look how little we had to do to make them comic' touches. 

Anyone planning this show would come up with a parade of talentless wannabes, but I Can't Sing! pauses just long enough to notice how sad some of the losers are, colouring the comedy with a hint of pathos that reminds one of the similar leavening touches in Jerry Springer The Opera. 

Every musical needs a love story, and it wouldn't take much imagination to posit a romance between two contestants, but Hill knows that's a cliché and knows that we know it too, and so the musical revels in the silliness of its own plot. 

Director Sean Foley and designer Es Devlin put all the money up there on stage, dressing the show in a lavish production that never loses the awareness or enjoyment of its own over-the-top-ness. There are very clever video projections by Treatment Visual and witty choreography by Kate Prince. 

The songs, ranging from reggae through disco to rap, may all give the vague impression that you've heard them before, but that's because Steve Brown has created clever pop pastiches that capture the essence of each style. 

Cynthia Erivo is attractive as the romantic heroine and, with considerable help from the sound engineer, delivers on all her big songs. Alan Morrissey is amiable as her slightly dim boyfriend, Nigel Harman droll as Simon, and there are strong supporting performances by Simon Lipkin, manipulating and speaking for a wisecracking puppet dog, and Katy Secombe as the obligatory Susan Boyle figure.

It's not perfect. The skilled pastiche quality of the songs also makes them somewhat generic and unmemorable, there are ultimately only a limited number of ways you can say Simon Cowell is ridiculous without repeating yourself, and Harry Hill sometimes dips rather deep into the barrel for his gags. 

But I Can't Sing! delivers more in the way of wit, invention and sheer entertainment than it absolutely had to, and offers its audience – who deserve no less respect than, say, those at the National Theatre just because they're not at King Lear – real value for money.

Gerald Berkowitz

(Despite generally positive reviews, the musical couldn't find an audience and closed in less than two months.)


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