I Can't Sing! - review: Simon Cowell's X Factor musical has a bonkers surreal charm

4.00

London Palladium: It's an unanticipated 'Yes' from theatre critic Paul Taylor

A satire on The X Factor that's been endorsed and partly financed by Simon Cowell sounds an improbable proposition – equivalent to imagining a big West End revival of Pravda blessed and partly bankrolled by Rupert Murdoch. 

In addition to the conflict-of-interest question, there were the troubling reports of cancelled performances and delays of up to an hour between the two acts during a preview period plagued by technical problems.  None of this inspired confidence.

So 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.  And talking of backs, how could one wholly resist a show that that barmily embodies the idea of the obligatory tear-jerking back-story in the grotesque hump of a rapping Quasimodo-figure (Charlie Baker) who swings in on a bell-rope and tells us (and I think this was where my resistance started to break) that he is going to sing “Build Me Up Buttercup” by the Foundations.

I Can't Sing! stars former EastEnders actor Nigel Harman (centre) as a character inspired by Simon Cowell I Can't Sing! stars former EastEnders actor Nigel Harman (centre) as a character inspired by Simon Cowell

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.  In the song “Please Simon” he descends on a cloud like the Messiah to a crowd of vying petitioners; he performs a couple of ludicrously short-lived miracles on the lame and the blind; even the Avenue Q-style dog (called Barlow, presumably after Gary) gets the hots for him. 

Of course, you could argue that sending Cowell up through mock-deification is not infallibly calculated to cut his ego down to size.  But there's a mad overkill to the strategy that's reprehensibly entertaining.  For example, at the start, the excellent graphics zoom us down from the furthest reaches of the galaxy to the point on earth where the schoolboy Cowell is having a lightbulb moment about the reality TV of the future: “I see a nation that rejoices/Because the people make the choices”.  It's like being present at the invention of the wheel.

Living in a caravan under a flyover with one electrical plug and a grandfather in an iron lung, the heroine Chenice has never seen The X Factor but she's a natural and Cynthia Erivo makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention with her elating rendition of the damnably catchy“I Can't Sing”. 

As she and her ukele-playing plumber boyfriend (charming Alan Morrisey) compete on the show, there are barely-disguised variants of previous contestants (Jedward, Tesco Mary, Wagner et al) and judges Cheryl Cole, Louis Walsh and a figure renamed Liam O'Deary (spot-on Simon Bailey) who sings an amusingly idiotic number about his compulsion to hug total strangers. 

The strain of upping the satirical ante on a programme that long ago lunged into self-parody sometimes tells.  But there are some sharp digs at the manipulativeness of the process.  The  plumber's defiance of Simon's song-choices and his taste for the derivative in the simple, affecting “Song I Wrote For You” is a liberating highlight. 

On the whole, then, it's an unanticipated yes from me.

To October 25 ; 0844 811 0058

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam