Charing Cross Theatre, London – until 21 December 2019
It’s in the colourful carnival of Old Compton Street that we meet Robbie, our Cinderella in this re-telling of the classic tale. He’s a young man trying to find his place in the bustling city as he works in a laundrette once owned by his mother, and struggles with his step-sisters who are trying to take what little he has. Things get even more stressful when Robbie begins seeing mayoral candidate James Prince and having a questionable relationship with a sleazy Lord. He ends up at the heart of a media scandal and faces losing everything… But this is a fairy tale so you can guess how it ends.
Anthony Drewe and Elliot Davis’ book has some witty moments and certainly turns the classic tale on its head, as well as featuring more heartfelt moments. The LGBT representation for the most part is strong and the team have done well to modernise the show.
However, there are aspects which seem to have been glossed over. The characters discuss knowing a man is straight because he’s wearing a wedding ring which just screams dated, as does the implication that these modern online relationships take place over Skype. They’re little details for sure, but do detract from a piece that really has the potential to feel relevant and of the time. Similarly, the variety of musical genres and the story itself is certainly representative of Soho but it would be nice to see some of that diversity reflected in the cast.
As Robbie, Luke Bayer is the standout. His charming personality and smooth vocals make him a protagonist the audience roots for and he really is the heart of the story and all it stands for. Bayer’s performance of ‘They Don’t Make Glass Slippers’ is especially enrapturing.
As Velcro, his best friend and partner in crime, Millie O’Connell gives a strong performance. Despite being underused in act one, O’Connell really comes into her own in the second half and provides some of the most touching and realistic moments. Her quick wit and sarcastic nature are entertaining to watch and the playful banter and easy chemistry between the pair can surely remind us of our own friendships. Two friends supporting each other is wonderful to see and really grounds the often over-the top-piece.
George Stiles music and Anthony Drewe’s lyrics are a combination of upbeat laugh-a-minute numbers, forgettable babbles and fairy tale sweet duets. The Stepsisters’ duet Fifteen Minutes is especially energetic and well performed. Natalie Harman and Michaela Stern do a great job of bringing the characters to life and only occasionally teeter on the edge of overacting. O’Connell’s duet with Tori Hargreaves is another touching moment and a real highlight of the second act.
Thematically, this seems to be a piece which will remain ever relevant but it needs an extra touch of magic to keep audiences coming back. The political and sexual harassment aspects permeate the musical but it’s the importance of love and friendship which reigns strong at the end. Soho Cinders isn’t life-changing but it allows us to experience tongue-in-cheek, energetic performances which will entertain for the duration of the show.
photo credit: Pamela Raith