“despite being predictable to the end, the story flows as harmoniously as the ensemble singing”
The setting for “Soho Cinders” is Old Compton Street, a street that knows no shame, where theatre goers rub shoulders with prostitutes and local businessmen on their way home are having one last drink as they collide with a younger crowd arriving for their first. It is a world which never really existed but you kind of feel it might have done. It is London as we know it, but with a technicolour gloss coating that fits perfectly with this modern-day retelling of ‘Cinderella’.
With music by George Stiles, Lyrics by Anthony Drewe and book by Drewe and Elliot Davis, the classic fable is given a satirical twist with a plot that is, in turns, comedic, romantic and serious. The mix of politics, scandal and true love is flawlessly balanced so that, despite being predictable to the end, the story flows as harmoniously as the ensemble singing.
Young, impoverished student Robbie is ‘Cinderella’, scraping a meagre living in his late mother’s laundrette, but facing eviction from his ‘ugly’ stepsisters who run the strip club next door. He just gets by with the occasional pay off from a local ‘Lord’, but when he begins a secret liaison with the already engaged Mayoral candidate, he looks set to lose everything. And everyone. Luke Bayer captivates as Robbie, having us rooting for him throughout. When he sings “Happy ever afters always turn out wrong”, we both wish and know that he’ll be proven wrong and he’ll find his prince. Part of me, however, wishes he would straighten up and fall for his co-worker and best-friend ‘Velcro’. Millie O’Connell imbues Velcro with a warmth, loyalty and irreverent wisdom that makes it one of the stand-out performances.
The show stealers are surely Clodagh and Dana, the stepsisters, though they do have a head start. Davis’ script is overflowing with brilliant one liners and these sisters have the lion’s share of them. Michaela Stern and Natalie Harman certainly make a meal of them too with unforgettably hilarious performances. But each character is given their moment to shine, while the ensemble highlights Adam Haigh’s dynamic choreography. Stiles and Drewe’s eclectic score is a catchy mix of ballads, duets and showstoppers, ranging from the achingly beautiful “They Don’t Make Glass Slippers” through to the fiery “I’m So Over Men”, which is reprised with a clever double-entendre re-interpretation of its title.
“Soho Cinders” is a musical with a heart full of passion and a belly full of laughs. As the nights draw in and the cold fronts approach the city, this show will certainly reignite the cinders and leave you with a feeling of warmth. The moral of the fairy-tale is in plain sight, but it doesn’t quench the enjoyment. This incredibly talented cast have as much fun as the audience. An audience who will still be humming the tunes way after midnight. Go! You’ll have a ball.
“A louder voice, greater dynamic variation and some brutal editing are needed to keep it afloat in the current swamp of new musicals”
The deluge of new musicals on the London theatre scene is a double-edged sword. Whilst this might please devotees of the genre, the wider appeal inevitably evaporates. And for composers and producers, this overcrowding adds its own challenges. The annual BEAM festival for new musicals, for example, received over three hundred pitches to be whittled down to fifty, while the West End continues to churn out re-issues, jukebox musicals, imports and any old film titles.
Thankfully there are now theatres dedicated to developing and promoting new musicals. The Other Palace is at the forefront of this movement, accepting submissions year-round as well as staging its ‘new musical workshop sharings’ where the audience is at the core of the process, witnessing the evolving show and offering feedback. “Normality” is one such musical testing the water. Subtitled “A Musical Guide to Quantifying Love in a World of Frauds and Scammers”, it is as quirky and zestful as its tag line suggests. Writers Jules Kleiser and Nige Reid are both song writers/musicians and have written the score for a four-piece rock band and ten voices. Under Charlotte Peters’ stylish direction, the cast of ten fill the stage, and the auditorium, creating a host of characters without feeling overcrowded.
At the centre is Norman Goodman, a small town, prog-rock obsessed keyboard player, with a nerdiness that is off the scale. Thinking that he is auditioning for a life changing gig he has, in fact, wandered into a corporate interview for a dodgy City trading company. Failing the interview, he nevertheless impresses by fixing the office computer. Invited to design an IT system to predict market trends for the firm, he then unwittingly finds himself embroiled in a Machiavellian financial scam. Norman’s narrow outlook on life is cruelly broadened as he battles with the dilemma of who to trust; a quandary he equates to a scientific equation.
The musical opens with too soft a punch. The band, placed up in the gallery, lack the volume to prick up the ears. But one quickly realises that this is to compensate for the singers not using mics. Whether this is an artistic or financial decision is unclear, but it does lead to problems of projection. Much of the libretto is lost during the solo numbers, particularly when some of the melodies wander beyond the actors’ vocal range. This is not ‘legit’ musical theatre, so the inconsistent quality of the singing can be forgiven, and where technique is occasionally lacking it is certainly made up for by character. Dan Buckley, in fine voice as Norman, is believable as the wunderkind with a heart, while Siobhan Athwal’s love interest mixes a no-nonsense steeliness with a true-hearted empathy. Ken Christiansen is all cockney brass as the bulldog CEO, unaware that all around him are ready to pull the carpet from underneath him. Claire Marlowe stands out as the privileged, upper class Lady Cocksure, with more faces than the town clock, who is intent on bringing everybody down.
But nothing unexpected really happens; either in the comedy, the dialogue or the score. With the exception of a refreshingly surreal Tango and a Ska infused number the soundtrack is quite monotone. It is like the composers are handling the material with kid gloves. There is a rawness to the satire of the book that is unmatched by a slightly reticent, almost polite, delivery of the guitar-based numbers. A louder voice, greater dynamic variation and some brutal editing are needed to keep it afloat in the current swamp of new musicals. At present it feels adrift in its own deference.