Soho Cinders – music by George Stiles, lyrics by Anthony Drewe. Charing Cross Theatre, Villiers Street, London WC2 to 21 December 2019. 3***. William Russell.

Soho Cinders
Music by George Stiles. Lyrics by Anthony Drew.
Book by Anthony Drewe & Elliot Davis.
Charing Cross Theatre, The Arches, Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NL to 21 December 2019.
Mon – Sat 7.30pm. Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 30 mins. One interval.
TICKETS: 08444 930 650.
Review: William Russell 29 October.

As so often with musicals it is the book that lets things down. The score is enchanting, the lyrics are very funny and most of the performances are first rate. Director Will Keith staged this 2011 Styles and Drew show three years ago at the Union in Southwark. I gave it three stars then, arguing that something should have been done about the book which strives to be an enchanting gay variation on Cinderella and makes no sense whatsoever given that it was a revival. I also said he had failed to cope with the traverse setting he opted to set up in the wastes of the Union space. That at least he has improved upon. The Charing Cross Theatre has the audience in two banks of seats on opposite sides of the acting area. They are arguable too far apart for comfort, but he has cracked that one successfully – which not every show there has managed to do.
The story is about a nice little gay boy called Robbie who runs a laundrette in Soho with his best mate, a tough little girl called Velcro nicely done by Millie O’Connell. The laundrette belonged to his late mother who had remarried and his wicked step sisters claim it belongs to them. Robbie, being nice but dim, faced with eviction, does not know what to do. He is also going out with a wealthy tycoon Lord who helps him out from time to time and must be the only denizen of Soho unaware that there is such a thing as pro quo for quids In addition he has fallen in love with an upright chap called James Prince who is standing for London Mayor and has a devoted fiancé called Marilyn he has known since their university days. Robbie and James are having an affair and meet, as you do, by one of the lions in Trafalgar Square. Since James in a past life was a famous swimmer one feels he might just have been spotted by a passerby with a smart phone while canoodling with Robbie who is torn between his two men, although in love with only one of them.
The political plot, which involves a corrupt election agent running James’s campaign, which the Lord is funding, is nonsense, but so be it. Nobody has bothered to rethink it which really is a pity. The main trouble, however, is that the ugly sisters are played as total grotesques, strident, and filthy minded and so over done that numbers which should be hilarious – like their I’m So Over Men duet – die the death. That happened at the Union too – the actresses playing the sisters, Michaela Stern and Natalie Harman, are reprising their roles so are presumably doing just what Mr Keith asked of them. You listen and wish they would stop flouncing around as they kill the really good jokes in the lyrics stone dead. Why they didn’t opt for ugly brothers played by a couple of drag queens, which would be very Soho, and might have made the flouncing about funny instead of tasteless is anybody’s guess. Maybe they didn’t think of it.
Lewis Asquith, who plays the mayoral candidate, also in the same role at the Union, sings very well indeed and has loads of lanky charm, while, even if he is playing the dimmest boy in Soho, Luke Bayer has a rather nice high pitched voice and loads of camp personality as Robbie which makes one hope he gets to live happily ever after. The best performance, however, is given by Tori Hargreaves as Marilyn James’s discarded but understanding partner – she has a fine voice and creates a real and wounded woman.
Soho Cinders has that first rate score to commend it – you just about leave humming the tunes, especially Wishing for the Normal and the rousing first act finale You Shall Go to the Ball – and relishing e lyrics. It is a four star score with a two star book and – by and large – a four star cast. So the result is three stars as it was for the one at the Union even if the staging is better.

Robbie: Luke Bayer.
Velcro: Millie O’Connell.
Clodagh: Michaela Stern.
Dana: Natalie Harman.
James Prince: Lewis Asquith.
Marilyn Platt: Tori Hargreaves.
William George: Ewan Gillies.
Lord Bellingham: Christopher Coleman.
Sasha: Melissa Rose.
Ensemble: Ben Darcy, Savannah Reed, Luke Byrne, Laura Fulgenzi, Danny Lane, Jade Bailey, Thomas Vall.
Director: Will Keith.
Musical Director: Sarah Morrison.
Choreographer: Adam Haigh.
Set Designer: Justin Williams.
Lighting Designer: Jack Weir.
Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson.
Costume Designer: Nicole Garbett.
Production photography:Pamela Raith.

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