Review of Soho Cinders at the Union Theatre
George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s contemporary reworking of the Cinderella story set in the heart of London’s Soho is an enjoyable and good hearted musical that highlights the pair’s ability to craft an original score of memorable tunes stuffed full of witty rhymes. While slightly sophomoric in nature it is most successful in the more upbeat moments rather than its attempts at political satire which barely scratch the dramatic surface and feel too broad to really bite. Its overly sanitized Disney-fied set up of Old Compton Street perhaps sets the tone for the piece as a whole, but it's easy to sit back and enjoy the ever tuneful score.
The parallels between the fairy tale structure are smart yet mildly predictable. Cinderella becomes a young gay heartthrob named Robbie who has fallen in love with his very own Prince; James Prince that is, a bisexual London mayoral candidate who finds himself in quite a predicament. With some help from a ‘fairy godmother’, benefactor Lord Bellingham, Robbie heads to the ball in a fresh Prada suit, and the rest pretty much writes itself.
For all the book’s lively humour the attempts to give it a fully contemporary edge complete with references to Trump and Honey G are clunky yet give it that 'panto' element that sometimes undercuts the tone, diminishing the quality of the score which includes a number of top-drawer musical theatre hits. The narration between scenes undervalues the work of the script itself reducing any demand on the audience further and feels slightly too much of a cop-out for a fully staged production.
This is a spirited and highly energetic production that provides ample escapism for the festive period featuring a packed stage of talented performers. Whilst it certainly paints with a broad palate and mainly in primary colours, Will Keith’s direction keeps the piece moving and thanks to some spirited choreography by Joanne McShane there’s plenty to look at despite some numbers sagging under the weight of over production.
A few shows into the new Union Theatre the traverse layout solves many of the sight-line problems which have haunted earlier shows this season, but audibility is still an issue, with un-miced singers battling against an electronic score. The balance takes a while to settle meaning some of Drewe’s earlier lyrics are missed - not that much is missed in terms of narrative exposition, but it's a shame when voices don't carry to the back rows on either side.
There’s a collection of strong lead performances from Joshua Lewindon as Robbie who handles the smaller moments in the score sensitively, making hits out of his second act ballad “They Don’t Make Glass Slippers” alongside his moments with Lewis Asquith’s suitably conflicted Prince, offering the strongest male vocals. There’s a little too much moustache twirling from the villain characters to feel either satirical or dangerous, yet the faintly plotted female characters have ample room to shine, particularly Emily Deamer's Velcro.
However, as with all the best Cinderella treatments the stage is completely stolen by the Ugly Sister characters, in this case Robbie’s stepsisters Clodagh and Dana. Brash, vulgar and completely grotesque Michaela Stern and Natalie Harman display outstanding vocals and spot on comic timing, bringing down the house in their first act number “I’m So Over Men”, clad in leopard print and, to use their own phrase, "look like they're been covered in Pritt Stick and rolled through Accessorize". Together they offer a courageous and full-throttled performance that provides appropriate balance against the over-earnestness of the central love story.
This is a youthful and peppy production that has a warm-natured drama school feel to it that offers an easy and enjoyable watch, jam packed full of memorable melodies.