The Charing Cross Theatre may be just over a stone’s throw from Old Compton Street, but the vibrancy and ambiance of London’s coolest street is transported to the traverse stage in all its unabashed glory in the latest revival of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s fabulous fairy tale, Soho Cinders.
You can probably tell from the title that this is a very modern twist on the Cinderella story, set in the beating heart of London’s LGBTQ+ district. Our protagonist is Robbie who is about to be kicked out of his mother’s launderette by his ugly step sisters (the words of the voiceover narrator, not me).
With his best friend, Velcro, acting as a kind of moral compass Robbie has to deal with the fact that he has fallen in love with Mayoral candidate James Prince, who happens to be engaged to a woman. At the same time, he’s been accepting large sums of money from the much older Lord Bellingham, and while it all seemed innocent at first, Bellingham has a different future all planned out for his young escort.
Soho Cinders has an unbelievably good score, Stiles and Drewe have written a musical that absolutely pounds with energy, and so many of the songs are instantly memorable. I found myself humming ‘You Shall Go To The Ball’ on the way in to the theatre, despite it being at least three years since I last saw a production of Soho Cinders. In the Charing Cross Theatre, and in the hands of Musical Director, Sarah Morrison, it sounds better than ever, and that Old Compton Street vibe is ever present.
As a musical it drifts dreamily from the occasional ballad, to high energy and fast tempo numbers, and some, such as ‘Who’s That Boy’, manage to be both at the same time. Adam Haigh’s choreography is electric, peppy and full of charisma, leaving the audience desperate to join in, and the entire script is peppered with wickedly funny innuendo.
Luke Bayer is completely charming as Robbie, and while the plot is played more for laughs than high drama, his performance echoes the depths to which his character has plummeted, his solo number ‘They Don’t Make Glass Slippers’ is a particular highlight. Lewis Asquith reprises the role of James Prince from an earlier production, and it’s clear to see why he’s back, a beautiful performance that rises above the characters questionable actions and allows us to focus on true love. The duet between Bayer and Asquith, ‘Gypsies of the Ether’ is worth the ticket price alone.
Millie O’Connell doesn’t really come in to her own as Velcro until late in the second act, it is her duet with spurned fiancé Marilyn (Tori Hargreaves) that really demonstrates what she can do. Our ‘ugly’ step sisters are played wonderfully by Michaela Stern and Natalie Harman, camping it up in full cockney they have the audience eating out of the palm of their hands by the end of ‘I’m So Over Men’.
Director, Will Keith, has really understood this musical, giving Soho Cinders the right balance of fun and frolics with emotional depth. There’s almost certainly a moral to the story, but it’s probably not worth spending too long looking for it, instead enjoy the fabulous score and fantastic cast in this joyous musical, that has acceptance at its heart.