BWW Reviews: SOHO CINDERS, Soho Theatre, August 9
Soho Cinders does what it says on the tin - it's a cheeky London W1 reworking of the classic Cinderella tale, centred on Robbie (Tom Milner), a cute but savvy young gay man with very little family but many dreams. He has ugly sisters (the deliciously vulgar, lycra-clad Suzie Chard and Beverly Rudd), a wicked stepfather we never meet and of course a Buttons-style soulmate full of unrequited love for him. This is Velcro (the standout performance from Amy Lennox), a loveable, ballsy blonde who works in his dead mother's launderette.
Still with me? The Cinderella frame actually makes Soho Cinders easy to follow, leaving you free to enjoy its upbeat, poppy songs (the opening Old Compton Street and duet Wishing for the Normal are highlights), crude jokes and clever lyrics. Each member of this cast of 18 - plus Stephen Fry's dulcet tones as narrator - has a cracking voice and puts every ounce of it into each song. Chard and Rudd's ugly sisters have been hairsprayed and lacquered, squeezed into too-tight market stall clothing and talk incessantly of shagging and tabloid fame - yet part of you still wants to hang out with them.
Of course none of this grubby fairytale setting would be complete without a handsome prince. James Prince, to be exact, the would-be London Mayor played as a sexily stressed-out posh boy by Michael Xavier (think the love child of Richard Madeley and Rupert Everett). Ostensibly straight, with a fiancée (Jenna Russell), Prince somehow makes a connection with down-on-his-luck rentboy Robbie, a complicated bond that is handled beautifully in their duet Gypsies of the Ether. Xavier's rich baritone and Milner's smooth boyband sound mingle to great effect as Hugh Vanstone's subtle lighting creates the reflected ripples off the Trafalgar Square fountains.
Some songs do seem to go on for one rousing chorus too many (It's Hard to Tell and Who's That Boy being prime examples) but a few truly beautiful numbers, especially the light and shade of Amy Lennox and Jenna Russell's duet Let Him Go, let them off the hook. Gerard Carey's slimy political advisor doesn't get the best songs, but smarms and bitches his way to the top admirably. The ensemble work hard, popping up as prostitutes, spin doctors and party guests, their harmonies blending into a real treat for the ears. There is also a lot of wit about the ensemble performances; you feel everyone is completely invested in this show's unique charm and eager to deliver each line to its full potential.
The thing that writers Stiles and Drewe have got absolutely right about Soho Cinders is that while the humour lies in its parody of one of our best-known narratives, the content always stays just clear of panto. Even with the cackling sisters and Xavier's Disney-prince hair, the book has a sincerity and the songs have a heart that keep things musical theatre. Any low points are when the parallels start to be bludgeoned home (I wasn't overly enamoured with They Don't Make Glass Slippers, for example). Using Stephen Fry as the narrator is also a touch of genius - his introduction of each scene and character whisks things along and earns a lot of laughs.
Soho Cinders has something of the light-hearted charm and touching moments of a Legally Blonde or a Mamma Mia - but in a homegrown, original show - and promises a night of belly laughs for the right crowd. Best of all you get to wander out on a summer's eve into buzzing, diverse Soho where, as you've just seen, anything can happen...
From This Author Lucy Thackray