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Why ‘I Can’t Sing!’ was voted out of the West End

Posted at 2:30 pm, April 28, 2014 in Arts & Entertainment, News
I can't sing

After a year of thunderous hype, Harry Hill’s Simon Cowell-produced ‘X Factor’ musical ‘I Can’t Sing!’ has been voted out of the West End by the ticket-buying public – despite decent reviews, it’ll end its run on May 10, scarcely two months after it began previews.

But why didn’t it work? Is this the end for Simon Cowell? Is it the end for musicals? Are we all doomed? Here are some of our thoughts…

People don’t really care about ‘X Factor’

Okay, even in its declining years, Cowell’s long-running singing contest is a popular show. But ‘I Can’t Sing!’ seemed to be pitched on the assumption that because millions of people watch ‘X Factor’ for free on telly, millions of people would automatically want to watch a pricey musical parody of ‘X Factor’. How does that actually in any way follow? Ultimately it’s the contestants that people love on ‘X Factor’ , not the brand per se.

It was really hard to explain what it was about

The irony, though, is that ‘I Can’t Sing!’ wasn’t so much an ‘X Factor’ musical as a joyous rummage through the recesses of creator Harry Hill’s over-active imagination, a batshit mental romp involving talking dogs, rapping hunchbacks, and a man solely hired to play the part of ‘the wind’. If it had just been billed as ‘the Harry Hill musical’ it might have found a different audience, but the prominent ‘X Factor’ connection almost certainly alienated anybody not a fan of the show.

It was in the wrong theatre

The London Palladium is enormous, the biggest theatre in the West End bar the Coliseum. Yes, it’s the historic home of London variety, something ‘X Factor’ is very much descended from. But regardless, going into it all guns blazing with a brand new musical was either hubristic or naïve. By all accounts the show was only shifting 600 of its 2,300 seats per show, but in smaller West End theatres that would have been a respectable enough number.

It was too expensive

A mass of lavishly weird set pieces and hysterically briefly deployed props, ‘I Can’t Sing!’ looked amazing, but was clearly absurdly expensive – by all accounts it cost a whopping £7m to stage. If it had had lower overheads it might have lasted longer; alternatively the ticket process could have been lower from the outset. As it is it would have had to be a monster hit to survive.

Simon Cowell didn’t know what he was doing

Love him, loathe him or want to put a stake through his heart, Simon Cowell clearly has a tremendous wealth of experience in the music industry – but not the theatre industry. Would Cameron Mackintosh have put ‘I Can’t Sing!’ into a 2000-seat theatre? Would Nica Burns have okay’d a £7m budget? Would Sonja Friedmann have suggested it needed more development time? Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t, and flop musicals are hardly a rarity.  But mistakes were made and a wilier producer may not have made them. Andrzej Lukowski

‘I Can’t Sing’ is at the London Palladium until May 10. 

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