“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 late 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.