Entertainment & Arts

Simon Cowell musical has the X Factor, critics say

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Media captionWhat does Simon Cowell think about the X Factor musical?

A West End musical about Simon Cowell and TV show The X Factor has received a largely positive response from critics.

"This flawed but funny show gets a yes from me," wrote Dominic Maxwell in The Times, who praised its "glorious gags" and "delectably silly set pieces".

The Daily Telegraph's critic found I Can't Sing! "wildly eccentric and often wonderfully funny", while the Express's called it "surprisingly hard-hitting".

Simon Cowell joined a starry opening night audience to see himself parodied.

The music impresario is played on stage by former EastEnders actor Nigel Harman, with other actors playing characters based on fellow X Factor regulars Cheryl Cole, Louis Walsh and Dermot O'Leary.

Conceived by comedian Harry Hill and his writing partner Steve Brown, I Can't Sing! tells of a luckless young Londoner, played by Cynthia Erivo, who becomes a contestant on the ITV talent show only to find herself beset by the vicissitudes of overnight fame.

"It's an affectionate spoof and occasionally we go for the jugular," said Hill, adding that he thought Cowell would find it "flattering" to have a show built around his flamboyant 'Mr Nasty' persona.

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Image caption Harman (centre) previously appeared as the villain in West End musical Shrek

"It's painful at times but it's great fun," said Cowell of the musical, which depicts him as a money-obsessed, shiny-toothed control freak in high-waisted trousers.

"It's one of those things where you've just got to grin and bear it."

The 54-year-old is one of the producers of the musical that has been the subject of some speculation following reports earlier this month of cancelled previews, technical difficulties and extended intermissions.

'Teething problems'

"That's why we have previews, to get the teething problems out the way," said Brown, better known to some as musical director 'Glen Ponder' from Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge TV show.

"There are problems with every show, but when Simon Cowell's attached to it there's a lot more press interest," added Hill, who called the musical "a big family variety show" with "singing, dancing and a lot of jokes".

Though most of those jokes are at Cowell's expense, his fellow X Factor judges do not escape unscathed.

Cole, for example, is amusingly depicted by actress Victoria Elliott as a scatterbrained clothes' horse with an often impenetrable 'Geordie' accent.

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Image caption Victoria Elliott (centre) and Ashley Knight (right) play 'Jordy' and 'Louis'

"Cheryl is going to kill Harry when she sees him," said 1980s pop star Sinitta, a long-time friend of Cowell's, who gets her own fleeting cameo in the show. "And Louis was hilarious - I've never laughed so much."

"The actor playing me is much older than me, while the actor who plays Simon is much younger," said Walsh, portrayed in the musical as a doddery geriatric.

"But that's typical of Simon - he keeps getting younger-looking. I think he has a picture in the attic somewhere.

"The show's brilliant fun," continued the 61-year-old Irishman. "I'm not afraid to send myself up, unlike some other people who weren't here tonight."

'Word of mouth'

Cole, whose return as an X Factor judge was confirmed earlier this month, did not attend Wednesday's opening night. Yet the evening was otherwise well-stocked in the talent arbiter department.

Britain's Got Talent duo Amanda Holden and David Walliams were both part of a celebrity audience which also included Sir Terry Wogan, Cilla Black, comedian Ronnie Corbett and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Lord Lloyd Webber's own new musical, Stephen Ward, is to close on 29 March after a West End run of less than four months. Cowell, though, was confident that I Can't Sing would have a rosier future.

"There is an audience and I think it's going to work based on word of mouth," he told BBC News. "The early word of mouth is that everyone who comes and see the show loves it."

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Image caption The real Louis Walsh attended the first night with Sinitta

Though not every critic was abundant in their praise, even those with reservations found something to enjoy in the West End's latest musical production.

"The whole thing is daft as a whistling gerbil and a hundred times more likeable than The Book of Mormon," wrote the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts in a three-star critique that drew comparisons with the West End's current hottest ticket.

"But at present, as Louis might say, I can only give it a 65 per cent yes."

The Guardian's Michael Billington expressed similar sentiments, suggesting the show was "uneasily pitched between send-up and celebration".

But he nonetheless went on to identify some "redeeming qualities", among them the "dazzling" Erivo's "Cinderella-like charm and formidable lung power".

"There are all kinds of niggles and caveats," wrote Paul Taylor in The Independent. "But there is a bonkers, surreal charm to the loopy lampooning [and] there's a mad overkill to the strategy that's reprehensibly entertaining."

Yet Metro's Sharon Laugher remained unimpressed, describing the show as "a technically troubled musical that insufficiently parodies something that is already a parody of itself".

"A lot of Hill's jokes are rather lame," she wrote in a two-star review.

"Director Sean Foley doesn't quite know how to handle Hill's more surreal ideas [and] Steve Brown's songs aren't terribly memorable."

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