Thursday 20 June 2013

Does it have potential? – My thoughts on I Can’t Sing – The X Factor Musical

In late February 2014, one of the West End’s biggest and most prestigious theatres will welcome audiences to the new musical I Can’t Sing, based on ITV’s tabloid-grabbing talent show The X Factor. Written by Harry Hill and with music and lyrics by Steve Brown, I can say that the majority of comments expressed on this new musical have been that of a surprised and derogatory nature. But why? Is it that after the abysmal Viva Forever frequent theatregoers are sensing a repeat embarrassment of a formulaic musical that feeds media-crazed fans? Or could it be that the trash-o-meter is going off the scale just with the thought of the circus frenzy that takes over our televisions for four months of the year moving into esteemed theatreland?

One of the few things we know of I Can’t Sing is that it claims to go behind the scenes to reveal the real antics of The X Factor including the reason why Simon Cowell’s trousers are so high! So it seems to be taking a satirical root. One issue with that idea is that satire is supposed to be fairly current whereas The X Factor has surely peaked by now and most of the people who watch it see it as a guilty pleasure and are savvy to the fact that it is to be taken with a pinch (or perhaps a handful) of salt and that whatever success that comes from it could be down to money-throwing producers and delirious fans just as much as it’s got to do with an act’s talent. Therefore, even if the title ‘I Can’t Sing’ evokes humour through the format being about a lack of musical talent it still doesn’t quite strike as truth-telling enough as it could be. Perhaps it should be called You Know I Can’t Sing But This Isn’t Really About Singing But Is Cheap Entertainment That Increases Ratings, but I can’t imagine that it would catch on!

The other problem with a satirical take on The X Factor is that a question is being raised over who is the real butt of the joke. With The X Factor logo stamped all over it and Simon Cowell’s production company SyCo acting as co-producers, it makes you wonder how satirical I Can’t Sing can be. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many jokes there are about the height of Simon Cowell’s trousers, because when those trousers have pockets stuffed with audience members’ cash, it begs the question of who’s really laughing.

Surely I should be giving a show that hasn’t even started previews yet a chance. A home-grown musical that brings with it the opportunity to entice audience members that don’t often go to the theatre should be welcomed and celebrated. However, if the format is as unoriginal and (dare I say it) low art as some audiences thought Viva Forever was then do we really want it? Are theatre box offices really crying out for TV executives to flood the West End with cruddy, end of the pier, sensationalised musicals? Or is the issue with recurrent theatregoers such as myself? Maybe there is a pompous feeling that the theatre is a club separate to the grubby, spectacular world of TV and that come February there will have to be a sign outside the Palladium asking customers to wipe their feet on the way in. I hope that’s not the case, but an interesting issue nonetheless.

At the moment, the saving grace to I Can’t Sing sounds like it could be Harry Hill. Despite being a household name and having a hit primetime ITV show, his comedy has remained successfully alternative. Therefore we can hope that by moving him from commercial television to commercial theatre he won’t lose any of his likable edginess or cheeky recklessness.

Director Sean Foley has had a hit in the past couple of years with Graham Linehan’s The Ladykillers but also a flop with the West End revival of Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw last summer but I still suspect the production is in safe hands with him. Overall, with Kate Prince’s choreography and Es Devlin’s design and no doubt a dedicated cast and company, I Can’t Sing could well be a first class production but it would have to be a huge hit with critics, X Factor audiences and theatre fans for it to do extremely well in my eyes. To conclude, we’ll have to wait until 2014 to see how well it is executed (and there’s definitely a double meaning in that last word).

I Can’t Sing – The X Factor Musical starts preview from 27th February 2014 at the London Palladium and preview tickets are on sale now.

Monday 10 June 2013

Why the Tony Awards were so much better than the Oliviers

The above video shows a scene from Family Guy in which they parody a performance from the Tony Awards in which the ever-increasing number of performers sing ‘If more people join in, the song will get better’. They soon are walking in the aisles and chanting how their close proximity to the audience can trick people into thinking it makes for a better performance.

Watching Neil Patrick Harris’ truly spectacular opening number to this year’s Tony Awards makes me wonder if there was a touch of self-consciousness and self-parody in the routine. I fear that non-theatre lovers will rate the performance as cheesy and self-indulgent without fully appreciating the underlying tone of the performers and audience together embracing the in-jokes and light self-mockery alongside the unapologetic showmanship of it all. The Barnum-like Patrick Harris led the routine which featured Mike Tyson, cast members from quite probably every Broadway musical and an incredible magic trick was a brilliant tribute to the past season.

Cyndi Lauper’s Kinky Boots walked away with an impressive six awards including Best Musical, Best Choreographer and Best Actor in a leading role. Although it beat Matilda the Musical, they should also be proud of their five awards including Best Book, Best Design and Sound Design, Best Actor in a featured role and Special Achievement awards for the four Matildas. However, they didn’t do as well as perhaps expected and certainly didn’t match their record-breaking number of Oliviers.

For plays, the Chekhovian Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, by Christopher Durang and starring David Hyde Pierce and Sigourney Weaver, was awarded Best Play and the 50th anniversary production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf won best revival along with Tracy Letts winning Best Actor. We also learnt that Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy, which sees Tom Hanks (don’t forget to thank him!) making his Broadway debut, is not planning a West End run at the moment, even if it did win awards for Best Actor in a featured role for Courtney B Vance and best lighting design for a play. Other success stories of the night were The Trip to Bountiful, Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and Pippin (Best Revival of a musical) including Sister Act’s Patina Miller winning Best Actress in a leading role in a musical for the latter.

The Tony Awards have more categories than the Olivier Awards in some aspects, which makes it fairer for the ‘Featured/ Supporting’ awards. But also where the Olivier Awards seem to go wrong is in its coverage. After all, I think that a Tony and an Olivier are equally prestigious but you wouldn’t think so when watching them. The pride and glamour on show at last night’s ceremony made this year’s Oliviers seem apologetic to be televised as if we had to be grateful for the little airtime that they received. And what about the content? No mash-up or tribute for London theatre. Instead we get the ubiquitous Sheridan Smith singing a song from a Broadway musical that hasn’t been seen in the West End since the early 1960s and which now almost always sounds dated. We may get performances from musicals but not quite to the same quality as some from the Tonys (although judging by the pretty poor offering of new musicals for this year’s London ceremony it might not be a bad idea to save some money in that area).

So, Society Of London Theatre, please take note to last night’s Tony Awards – it needs to be bigger and perhaps a giant replica Olivier will help!