George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s Soho Cinders could hardly be lodged closer to Old Compton Street than if it were actually “on location”. Dean Street’s Soho Theatre is fast emerging as the neighborhood watering hole for new musical theatre writing and on Saturday night it was picking up a little of Old Compton’s passing trade, so to speak, a duskier shade of pink than the main drag (sorry) a couple of streets over.
I feel like I’ve seen and heard Soho Cinders grow up having hosted a handful of its songs on my erstwhile radio show “Stage & Screen”. One of them, “Let Him Go”, made a big impression at the time and has stayed with me over the years. Hearing it now, in context – the emotional climacteric of the show – has made me realise all over again how the reasons for songs and the placing of them is what makes musicals really “sing”. It’s that craftsmanship that never deserts Stiles and Drewe and Soho Cinders, for all its shortcomings, is like all their work so much of a piece. Anthony Drewe and Elliot Davis‘ book has one or two dropouts – the early set-up scenes between its male Cinderella, Robbie (Tom Milner), and Velcro (his Buttons – geddit?), the delicious Amy Lennox, are a little laboured and if there is to be a voiceover narration (the ubiquitous Stephen Fry) then it needs to be wittier.
But the plotting of its gender-bending Cinderella-with-a-twist fairy-tale (enough already) is sharp and smart and grown-up and the characters so well defined by their numbers that the whole thing infects you with its good nature and big heart and defies you – and how – not to have a good time. Stiles and Drewe are naturals when it comes to comedy point numbers and Soho Cinders’ ugly sisters, Clodagh and Dana – the completely divine Suzie Chard and Beverly Rudd – fill the tiny stage in every sense, stealing scenes and stopping the show whenever they flaunt their gaudily festooned poundage centre-stage. “I’m So Over Men” is a cracker but better yet is “Fifteen Minutes” (of Fame) with Drewe in blistering form with a wicked check-list of one-hit-wonders from X-factor and Britain’s Got Talent fame and Chard and Rudd “Susan Boyle-ing it” in slow-mo lest the clock call time too soon.
And it does. The clever thing about this number is its touch of pathos – and it catches you completely unawares, the last thing you expect as the press corps vanishes and the sisters return to normality with just each other for comfort. The idea of “normality”, of “true love”, is at the heart of the show and one number “Wishing for the Normal” could hardly make that clearer. So when Tom Milner’s impossibly boyish Robbie sings “They Don’t Make Glass Slippers” (beautifully, by the way) he’s effectively separating real life from time-honoured fantasy and the result is a touching reality-check.
So Robbie does go to the ball – but on a Boris bike courtesy of Amanda Posener’s Sidesaddle whose rip-roaring voice is an ensemble dominatrix if ever there was one. Soho Cinders could hardly be more topical with its Mayoral elections and one-time Olympic swimming candidate James Prince (of course) suavely played by current leading man of choice Michael Xavier.
Whether or not our prince does come, we can all of us go to the ball. Soho Cinders is a sweet and innocent but still knowing antidote to West End bigness.