Comedian Harry Hill was the ideal candidate to write a musical based on the X Factor, the TV show’s supremo Simon Cowell said yesterday at the press launch for I Can’t Sing.
“Harry, of all people, was the right person,” the music mogul told reporters. “His observation on the show, in the past, has been spot on.”
Cowell, who added that he did not see the musical, penned by Hill and collaborator of 14 years Steve Brown, as cashing in on the TV show’s success and insisted he didn’t “want to do a musical that took [X Factor] too seriously”, met journalists alongside the writers, director Sean Foley and new leading man Nigel Harman to launch the production which will begin previews at the London Palladium on 27 February 2014.
“[Initially] I thought the idea of an X Factor musical was too pompous,” Cowell said. “I didn’t want it to appear like a cash cow. I wanted it to be a celebration of the show, but at the same time poking fun at what we do, because you can’t take it too seriously.”
Details of the show have crept out in the last week, with Olivier Award winner Harman and co-star Cynthia Erivo, currently starring in The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory, confirmed last Friday and Alan Morrissey added to the cast yesterday.
Erivo will play Chenise, a young hopeful who is convinced to audition for X Factor by eco-warrior plumber and love interest Max (Morrissey). With her faithful talking dog – who, Brown said, has had to be renamed three times so far for legal reasons – she faces crazy contestants, ruthless judges Simon (Harman), Louis and Geordie, and a rapping hunchback on her X Factor journey.
The plot, Brown told Official London Theatre, tips its hat to previous Palladium hit The Wizard Of Oz: “There are people who feel that they’re incomplete and if they get the thing that they want, which is to win X Factor, they will somehow be redeemed. Cowell is the Wizard, obviously.”
While the lyrics in the songs presented to the press yesterday confirm that there will be a lot of ribbing and Mickey-taking in the show, Brown says, “It’s not with a sledgehammer, it’s a tickling stick”.
Far from keeping a tight, controlling grasp on the project, Cowell and production company Syco have trusted the theatrical team to create the production, which features only original songs by Brown and Hill rather than any of the tracks released by former X Factor contestants.
“I’ve been amazed how they’ve genuinely just let us get on with it,” Foley said. There were suggestions made, the director, whose productions of The Ladykillers and Perfect Nonsense play in the West End this autumn, said, that previous X Factor contestant might appear in the show. “We just had to gently say we’re not going in that direction. I said right from the start that you’ve got to find really great people, actors who can sing. Some of [X Factor contestants] can sing, but they’re not people who can do eight shows a week.”
“Whatever you think about Simon Cowell or X Factor,” Brown added, “the one thing you can say for certain is that he isn’t stupid. He created an environment where we can work. He allowed it to happen.”
Cowell did suggest that he has already spoken to former X Factor winners Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke about joining the cast for a special charity performance, but that would rely on the show’s reception, which Foley hopes should be positive from all quarters:
“There are lots of people who profess to hate X Factor and think it’s the worst thing in our culture. I think they’re going to enjoy the show. There are people who love X Factor and want to come along and see songs and singers. I think they’re going to love the show. I think we’re going to surprise people. I think it’s going to be a great night out at the theatre. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
"I wanted it to be a celebration of the show, but at the same time poking fun at what we do, because you can't take it too seriously."