FeaturedMusicalNorth WestReview

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella – Hope Mill, Manchester

David Cunningham

Music: Richard Rodgers

Book and lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II, new book by Douglas Carter Beane

Directors: Joseph Houston and William Whelton

Hope Mill has a reputation for staging musicals which have previously been overlooked in the UK.  With Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella deciding on the version to be staged may have been an issue as the musical originated on television, where it has been revived a couple of times, as well being produced on stage. Hope Mill have selected the Broadway version with a new book by Douglas Carter Beane.  However, getting the production to the stage has been a challenge with a postponement due to the Covid pandemic and an injury to the lead actor making nervous audiences hope it is worth the effort. It is.

Despite being able to cut down beanstalks and slay dragons with a catapult Prince Tophe (Jacob Fowler) doubts he will be able to rule his kingdom as well as his late parents. He is unaware his lifestyle is subsidised by his chief advisor Sebastian (Lee Ormsby) confiscating land from the local villagers. Political agitator Jean-Michel (Adam Filipe) is anxious to educate the prince but unable to get a hearing. He gets a sympathetic response from Ella (Grace Mouat) but that is hardly surprising as she is exploited by her stepmother Madame (Annie Aitken) who cruelly nicknames her ‘Cinderella’ as she sleeps in the cinders from the stove. But, in an attempt to distract the prince, Sebastian suggests he should marry and proposes holding a ball to audition prospective brides. What could possibly go wrong?

It is apparent from the opening, an image of slowly breaking dawn complete with a chorus, co-directors Joseph Houston and William Whelton are opting for a sophisticated production rather than a cheap and cheerful festive potboiler. In this they are helped no end by Elly Wdowski’s lush costumes, which leap from gypsy chic to the height of fashion, and stylish set. Projections, designed by George Reeve, bring depth to the set and a cinematic quality to the show. The transformation of Ella from rags to glittering ballgown is a particular triumph. A combination of puppets and acrobatic actors provide the pumpkin-coach and animal- drivers, while Grace Mouat bathed in moonlight actually captures the classy fairy-tale image which has been used to promote the show on the company’s website.

For all the glossy sheen this is not a show that takes itself seriously. The co-directors take a tongue-in-cheek approach with the illusion of a horse created by images on a collection of shields shattered as the stage revolves to reveal an embarrassed set of actors. This cheeky approach is inspired by a witty script and lyrics. The dialogue is full of gems – ‘’He looked at her with such respect. I hope a man never looks at me that way,’’ or ‘’Are you implying what I’m inferring?’’. The boisterous opening to the second act has the ensemble led by a glowering Katie Ramshaw all having a good scratch and trying to get comfortable in stiff formal clothing while complaining the prince’s ball was a bit of a washout.

Typical of a show stuffed to the maximum William Whelton’s choreography for the announcement of the prince’s ball features a hornpipe, can-can and mid-air splits. It is easy for musicals to become bloated but this one moves like a rocket with a pace that will hold the attention of young audience members.

The production differs from the conventional Cinderella storyline in a number of ways. Ella’s stepsister Charlotte (Katie Ramshaw) is ugly in attitude and behaviour rather than appearance while Olivia-Faith Kamau’s somewhat giddy Gabrielle is a socially aware revolutionary in training. Julie Yammanee is a surprisingly sexy Fairy Godmother. Despite lyrics which literally describe Prince Tophe as ‘’ What a guy!’’ Jacob Fowler takes a charmingly un-macho approach to the role. Grace Mouat is a refreshing change from the usual mopey Cinderella’s with a strong confident approach and a cheeky grin from the start which challenges and irks Annie Aitken’s wonderfully overbearing, Cruella de Vil-style, stepmother.

With Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella Hope Mill have set a very high standard for this year’s festive season.

Runs :1 November to 11 December 2022.

The Reviews Hub Score

Very high standard

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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