It was a ‘Yes’ from the judges of theatreland as the critics gave I Can’t Sing! a widespread thumbs-up.
Reviews were lavish in their praise for the X Factor musical, lauding its ‘glorious gags’, ‘winning wit’ and unbridled mocking of the narcissism of showbusiness.
Some in the audience questioned where the show pitched itself, with the Guardian’s Michael Billington suggesting an uneasy position between ‘send-up and celebration’ and the Daily Mail said the show’s ‘zany humour’ in places ‘disappeared up its own chimney’.
But the broad perspective from the critics was that writer Harry Hill and director Sean Foley’s musical is destined for a position way beyond the bootcamp stage.
The Times awarded the show four stars from five, with Dominic Maxwell saying it ‘boasts some glorious gags and several delectably silly set pieces’.
I Can’t Sing! lacks the satirical edge to sustain it through the script’s ‘bum notes’, it said, but ‘the irreverence grows infectious’.
“Nigel Harman is a bronzed Cowell, a sort of daffy but conceited Willy Wonka figure”, The Times said, and lauded the moments of ‘inexplicable magic’ when the chorus arrive to salute the Cheryl Cole-figure, Jordy, singing: “She’s sexy but she’s down to earth, she’s flogging this for all it’s worth”.
The Telegraph’s Charles Spencer found his prejudice that ‘The X Factor represents almost everything that is revolting about modern Britain’ turned on its head by I Can’t Sing, which he called ‘wildly eccentric and often wonderfully funny’, a ‘delightfully bonkers show (that) has a winning with and warmth about it’.
Giving the show a four out of five, he said it ‘strikes me as a big popular hit blessed with real heart and great theatrical panache’.
The plot follows the story of a teenage girl who lives with her grandfather in a caravan underneath a motorway.
She is persuaded by an adoring plumber to enter The X Factor, and the two become finalists and put their blossoming romance to the test when they are pitted against each other in the final.
Contestants and judges are aped, with Louis Walsh transformed into a doddery old man with a walking frame and host Dermot O’Leary sent up as the needy Liam O’Deary.
But the most acerbic treatment is reserved for the programme’s svengali, Simon Cowell, who is played by former EastEnders star Nigel Harman.
The Mirror’s Rod McPhee delighted in how Simon is mocked from start to finish, with Nigel singing at one point: “Look at me, I’m on fire – I’m the goddamn Messiah…”, while the Mail said the character was ‘much like the real thing: vain and viperous to the power of camp’.
The Express’s Simon Edge is gushing in his praise for what he says is ‘smart, funny, foot-tapping and surprisingly hard-hitting beneath its cloak of reverence’, and called I Can’t Sing! ‘the best of the recent West End musical openings’.
Only the Daily Mail and the Guardian were in two minds about whether I Can’t Sing! had the X Factor.
The Mail’s Quentin Letts said its ‘lack of glamour is a weakness’, adding: “The whole thing is as daft as a whistling gerbil and a hundred times more likeable than The Book Of Mormon. But at present, as Louis might say, I can only give it a 65 per cent yes”.
And Michael Billington in the Guardian said the show left viewers feeling ‘a sledgehammer is being used to crack Cowell’s walnuts: the musical’s innate geniality means it lacks a killer blow’, adding: “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”.
Whatever the critics’ views, it seems that I Can’t Sing! will do Simon Cowell’s ever-present profile no harm.