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Theatre Throwback - I Can't Sing (2014)

Welcome to the first theatre throwback. I will be using this series to look back on some classic shows, some forgotten gems and some absolute disasters of the theatre world. In the spirit of positivity, the first installment definitely falls under the latter.

So let's go back to the year 2014. The X Factor was the biggest show on Television, Harry Hill was funny and we were free to leave the house. How things change.

Brace yourselves. It's a look back at I Can't Sing.

I Can't Sing was one of the biggest musical flops of the decade, lasting just six weeks before ending its run early, playing to near empty theatres and being universally slated in every review. But looking back six years on has time been kind to the show? The short answer is no.

The show was dogged by problems in previews. The first previews were cancelled and when it eventually did go ahead, there were still technical issues which resulted in intervals lasting nearly an hour. Even when things did run smoothly, it still faced one huge problem - it was a mess!

The one thing I remember about this production was the end, where a spaceship descended from the ceiling (not as impressive as Miss Saigons helicopter, sorry about that) to take Simon Cowell back to his home planet. Simon Cowell was an alien. I mean... wow! What a shocker of an ending. It's the kind of thing you'd expect somebody to write either after taking a tonne of drugs or just losing the will to live entirely. I liken it to writing stories in school as a small child and throwing a giant curveball into the mix because you were a child and your naivety and imagination allowed "Jack and Jill went up the hill.. then a dinosaur came down and decapitated them" to be quite sweet if not slightly disturbing and leading to a lot of concerned looks from the teacher for the rest of the year. Harry Hill was 49 when he wrote this. It was less sweet and funny and more ridiculous and pathetic.

Another example of the hilarity was the talented female lead (more on her later) singing the title song 'I Can't Sing'. But guess what? She COULD sing. But she was singing that she couldn't. That joke has so many levels to them - none of which are funny. Really the Palladium should have provided chopping boards to everybody in the audience so we had something to bang our heads on repeatedly.

It's easy to blame Harry Hill for everything. If I could I'd find a way to blame the global pandemic on him, but this really was his fault. He couldn't write a musical to save his life and jokes that might be funny on TV Burp on a Saturday night were not funny at one of the most iconic theatres in the world. It must seem like a good idea at the time to let comedians write musicals - While Jennifer Saunders and the Spice Girls seemed like a match made in heaven, we all know what resulted from that was two hours of musical Hell. Not all comedians are terrible at writing musicals though. Look at the genius that is Tim Minchin who wrote two masterpieces in Matilda and Groundhog Day. I think the key thing is a little bit of musical talent is required to write a musical. You'd have thought that would be obvious. But what does Simon Cowell know about music? He is the man responsible for chart hits by Zig & Zag and Robson & Jerome after all (Note to self: See if Joe Lycett is free to write a Robson & Jerome musical after this).

This musical had everything. Former Eastenders cast members, puppets, "songs" (in some semblance of the word anyway) and "jokes" (apparently). Anyone expecting it to succeed really shouldn't pursue a career as a psychic... or anything that requires intelligence.

What is interesting when looking back at I Can't Sing is the talent they had in that cast. Look at that list of future stars:

Let's start with the obvious. Future Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo. I wonder if she holds this musical to the same level she does The Color Purple and her Oscar nominated turn in Harriet? Her future success may have been owed karma for appearing in this. It's amazing to think such a massive worldwide star was in such a notorious flop so early in her career but nobody can predict how anything will turn out.

Then we move on to future theatre stars. Future Madame Thenardier in Les Miserables Katy Secombe, Luke Baker who would have a lead role in Everybody's Talking About Jamie, future Dreamgirls star Adam J Bernard, Philippa Stefani who would go on to scene stealing role in RENT and go on to play Gloria Estefan in On Your Feet and Kirstie Skivington who would go from Jamie to &Juliet and Jenna Boyd who would star in Come From Away among many others. For a show as shockingly awful as this, it produced a large chunk of the cream of the crop of todays West end stars - most of whom will almost certainly go to on to bigger things.

So what are the chances of a revival of I Can't Sing in the coming years? I wouldn't bet on it. While time has been kind to the amazing cast who had to cringe and roll their eyes through this mess every night for 6 weeks, time hasn't been kind to the show itself. It still remains a total trainwreck 6 years later.

I will always remember, as I was leaving the theatre after the torture, the person in front saying the words that were exactly in my mind "At least it wasn't as bad as Viva Forever". That was probably the nicest thing anyone could say about this though that's not really saying much.



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