It’s a no from me: The X Factor musical flops at big audition

No amount of coaching may be able to save Simon Cowell’s West End ‘parody’ that shows him as the Messiah, says Jamie Merrill, who saw a disastrous preview

It has the backing of the undisputed king of television talent shows, but the first performance of the X Factor musical didn’t exactly run as smoothly as a Saturday night ratings grabber.

Producers handed out free drinks to restless fans during Wednesday night’s first preview performance of I Can’t Sing! as a “technical glitch” led to an “unprecedented” 50 minute interval at the London Palladium.

Co-producer Simon Cowell, who is part-backing the £6m show, may hope I Can’t Sing! will be the biggest new musical to hit the West End since The Book of Mormon, but the music mogul was nowhere to be seen as patrons rushed to the exits at the end of the over-running show.

The less-than-cutting parody has been made with the pop supremo’s blessing, but is the brainchild of comedian Harry Hill and Olivier Award winning director Sean Foley, who took the highly unusual step of taking to the stage on Wednesday night to tell the audience “anything could happen” and to be prepared for technical problems with the complex set.

This warning came after pre-show speculation of “awful” tickets tales and “technical difficulties” led to the cancellation of the first two preview performances.

The Independent’s theatre reviewer will be offering a formal verdict later this month, but from a cheap seat in the stalls the less-than-hilarious tale of a young woman who lives in a caravan with a talking dog and finds fame on the talent show failed to impress this armchair critic.

The cast, led by ex-EastEnders actor Nigel Harman, meanders along with a clutch of maladjusted contestants, including a hunchback, who are dismissed as “mental” and “nutters” by the judges, while Hill’s cringeworthy jokes are laboured and repetitive and the ego-boosting lyrics dedicated to Cowell’s brilliance stagnate on a few laboured riffs.

Unless you are an unashamed X Factor fan, you will likely loathe this, with particular low points including “Please Simon”, a massive ego-boost to the small screen supremo which includes Cowell descending to earth like the Messiah on a giant cloud.

The interval saw Foley return to announce a “slight hitch” with the set and offer the first drink on the house, to one of the biggest cheers of the night. The safety curtain didn’t come back up for another 47 minutes, which according to one usher was the longest delay he’d ever heard of at the 104-year-old theatre. Some audience members lamented not taking the chance to escape for a meal in the West End (or just to escape, full stop).

Some others clearly enjoyed themselves, with some gags raising a big laugh.  But Louise Tsang, 30, wasn’t impressed by the show or won over by the free wine on offer. “You have to ask yourself if it’s worth paying full price for this compared to some of the other brilliant shows on in the West End at the moment,” she said. “I mean, where on Earth has the plot come from – there just doesn’t seem to be one.”

Influential theatreland blogger West End Whingers had raised concerns a few days before the preview, telling The Independent: “I find Harry Hill very funny, but given the reviews for The Harry Hill Movie he may have gone off the boil. And the whole X Factor parody thing is way too late and has already been (over)done. The moment has passed.”

Speaking at the end of the show, Hill told The Independent “there’s still a lot of work to do,” before being spirited away by a minder, while a spokesman for the production company said it was “working hard” to reduce the interval time and claimed the audience reaction had been “hugely positive”.

Back inside the Palladium, the first performance spluttered to a lingering finish, complete with a rainbow and romantic snowfall projected on the troublesome set and a sickening love story conclusion that “fame wasn’t worth the price”.

I’m not sure the £30 ticket was worth it either.

**

We have been asked to make clear that the comments by West End Whingers, quoted above, were made a few days before the preview performance, not afterwards as we said initially.  The article has been amended to correct this point.

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