Writer/Director: Peter Rowe
Actor-musician shows are increasingly common within the musical theatre genre, whether originally conceived as such or as a part of classic revivals. It is less common within pantomime – but nor are so many pantos as dependent upon song performances as the New Wolsey’s Cinderella, running this Christmas at Finchley’s ArtsDepot.
Written and directed by Peter Rowe (who, with his long-time musical director collaborator Ben Goddard, is about to embark on a more conventional actor-muso UK tour of Once ), Cinderella: The Rockin’ Panto involves an onstage band comprising all the actors who also perform a traditional panto version of Cinderella.
It’s not unusual, of course, for pantos to shoehorn in pop standards as part of their variety of entertainment. What this “rockin’ panto” does is to take this to the next level, including covers from the 1960s to the present day throughout the show, exploring and expanding characters’ motivations just as the best musicals do.
What the best musical also have, though, is a better book. Rowe’s insistence on including every single panto trope and milking them to death ensures that Act I is flabby even by commercial pantomime standards. Steve Simmonds’ Baron Hardup and Guy Freeman’s Buttons each play the fool role, but each instance of their use as a double act outstays its welcome somewhat.
As a result, the introduction of the ugly sisters – Tom Connor and Daniel Carter-Hope as Hernia and Verruca, both outshone by their mother Verruca (Georgina White) comes comparatively late into the show, while Cinderella herself, being pretty much the only non-comedic character, fades into the background despite Chioma Uma’s engaging performance.
Vocal highlights of the show come from Nicola Bryan’s godmother (monikered ‘Fairy G’) as well as the engaging double act of Samuel Pope’s Dandini (here styled as a huge rock star) and Chris Vince as Prince Charming.
Even with such strong performances, though, Rowe’s script seems unable to work out what age group it is aiming at. While so many pantos include a certain amount of innuendo for grown-ups, here it often feels as if this is a show which forgets that young people are in the audience too.
That’s also the case, to a degree, with the song choices throughout, which veer towards the older end of the pop and rock catalogue. The numbers are very well chosen, though, and complement the action well – a use of Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’ for Cinderella’s pre-ball transformation being an unexpected delight.
Indeed, in Act 2, we encounter a sequence of three songs covering Cinders and the Prince dancing together, the fairy godmother reminding of the midnight magical deadline, and Cinderella’s panicked flight — all of which communicate the basic pantomime story with a combination of familiarity and ingenuity that indicates what this musical pantomime could have been.
Instead, such glimpses remain brief interludes within a stodgy, underwhelming panto that never quite realises how easily it could be something unique and entertaining.
Runs until 5 January 2020.