Christmas has come early to the London theatre, West End and Fringe alike. But not all productions are for children.
The Charing Cross Theatre has chosen to revive an alternative version of Cinderella, the musical Soho Cinders, and I can report it is a riot. Strong writing and a universally outstanding cast keep the gags and tunes coming, and have the enthused audience on its feet.
The Charing Cross theatre is an unusual space underneath the arches of Charing Cross, with the audience divided in two in a mirror effect.
It was once a Victorian music hall, then a nightclub. Since 2011 it has been committed to presenting affordable theatre, where seasoned professionals can work with emerging young talent. And talent is what their current show Soho Cinders has in spades. We may be on the fringe but the singing and dancing is as good as anything in the West End.
The cast is led by the sweet voiced Luke Bayer (familiar from the musical Fiver).
Luke can sing, dance and act, and carries the show well. His character, Robbie, is the Cinderella of this tale.
A working class lad running a launderette in London’s Soho (here depicted as the seedy place it once was, rather than the uber fashionable, and expensive, quarter it now is).
Robbie’s co-worker Velcro is the equivalent of Buttons, played by the highly talented Millie O’Connell (Anne Boleyn in SIX). The two of them are romantics and dreamers, and we soon love them.
Both of these leads have plenty of strong solo numbers, not least Velcro’s Let him go, and Robbie’s touching rendition of They Don’t Make Glass Slippers.
In fact there are great tunes aplenty in this show. The whole cast bring the house down with You shall go to The Ball at the end of the first act.
This is the hit you leave humming.
The music and book are by the award-winning team of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
Stiles and Drewe have become big names in London’s musical theatre world. They are behind the hugely successful updatings of Mary Poppins, Half a Sixpence and The Wind in the Willows. No wonder this is a strong show.
The plot in Soho Cinders has a nod to the London mayoral election that brought Boris Johnson to prominence, with the wonderful Lewis Asquith playing the budding politician James Prince (as in ‘Charming’).
He sings Gypsies of the Ether beautifully.
James’s campaign is managed by the evil spin doctor William (Ewan Gillies, whose misdeeds narrowly escape pantomime booing from the audience) and bankrolled by Lord Bellingham (a perfect Chris Coleman).
His spurned girlfriend Marilyn is captured with pathos by Tori Hargreaves.
All strong performances. But, as in the original Cinderella, it is the two ugly sisters who somewhat steal the show.
The outstanding Michaela Stern and Natalie Harman are vulgar and outrageous in turns, and have the audience in stitches. Their performance of I’m so over men was very crude…. and utterly hilarious.
The rest of the ensemble are very strong, not least Luke Byrne in a nice cameo, and Ben Darcy – both of whom can sure dance.
They, and their colleagues, are talents we should watch for future success – Melissa Rose, Savannah Reed, Laura Fulgenzi, Danny Lane, Jade Bailey and Thomas Ball. The choreographer is Adam Haigh. Emerging talent
All in all, a rollicking, alternative way to kick off Christmas.
Soho Cinders plays at the Charing Cross Theatre until December 21. Book by calling 08444 930 650.