“It’s hard to tell the gay guys from the straight”
Technically speaking, Soho Cinders
is a new musical. But given that some of the
songs were first premiered at a Stiles + Drewe concert and subsequently
released on CD and that the musical itself received a concert presentation
last year, it feels more like the return of an old friend. Though in the way
that you can’t always control when friends come back into your life, this
fable-like gay retelling of the Cinderella story was booked into the Soho Theatre
in the middle of the summer.
Cinderella here is Robbie, a law student who works as an escort on the side and
his Prince Charming is James Prince, a bisexual candidate in the London Mayoral
race with whom he has been carrying out a clandestine affair. Anthony Drewe and
Elliot Davis’ book retains much that will be recognised, like ugly stepsisters,
but has also taken a bit of a spin on things, Buttons has become Velcro, the
carriage becomes a Boris bike and the story has generally been modernised to
cover the world of politics and sex scandals.
And it is mostly a very charming affair. I’ve long been a fan of the score, it
ranks amongst Stiles + Drewe’s most tuneful and accessible – augmented by at
least one new song here – and lyrically, it sparkles with sharp wit and sweet
feeling as the tangle of secret romances, sexual confusion and futilely-held
torches spills out and of course resolves itself neatly in the kindest of ways.
It is the kind of show that can get away with it, just about, with a great
sense of humour coming through from all angles, but especially from the filth
of the stepsisters who are just hilarious. The role of the narrator, which I
had assumed was just for the concert when we saw Sandi Toksvig doing it at the
Queen’s, has also been incorporated into the show and Stephen Fry’s dry tones
used (although as he has been recorded, the lack of spontaneity feels like a
real missed opportunity) to pass acerbic comment on the goings-on.
Casting-wise, several people reprise their roles from the concert: Michael
Xavier brings his customary leading-man charm to James Prince, something of a
difficult character whose bisexuality shouldn’t hide the fact he’s a bit of a
cad; Amy Lennox is wonderful as the down-to-earth Velcro, hanging off Robbie’s
every word; and Beverly Rudd and Suzie Chard chew up the stage, the audience and
everything in-between as the ugly sisters who get many of the best lines. Stepping
in for this run, it’s a pleasure to see Jenna Russell on the stage again, even
if the role of Prince’s fiancée Marilyn is a little thankless, and Tom Milner
as Robbie doesn’t quite have the presence or vocals to really command the stage
and make us really care about the central relationship, though he’s not far off.
So largely very enjoyable and the inclination is to forgive much of the
randomness – the casual acceptance of Robbie as a rent boy, the secret couple
choosing to meet up in the middle of Trafalgar Square… What one is not inclined
to forgive is the ticket pricing which has risen to West End levels - £37.50
for unreserved, uncomfortable stalls seating –a most unfortunate development
indeed. I like this show very much and I’d love to be able to recommend it, but
if you were to ask me is it worth that much, I’d have to regretfully say no, buy
the CD instead.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 9th September
Labels: Amanda Posener, Amy Lennox, Beverly Rudd, Gerard Carey, Jenna Russell, Michael Xavier, Neil McCaul, Raj Ghatak, Stephen Fry, Stiles + Drewe, Suzie Chard, Tom Milner