Updated: Nov 22, 2022
Review by Daz Gale
The UK has been crying out for a decent stage version of Cinderella for years now. If only we had a Fairy Godmother to grant us that wish? Step forward, the fantastic team at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. After their original planned production of Rodgers + Hammersteins Cinderella got delayed from its planned premiere thanks to Covid, they have finally been able to bring the production to life. But will this finally be the Good Cinderella the world has been waiting for? It's possible.
Rodgers + Hammersteins Cinderella was first released in 1957, though hasn't been revisited as much as their other productions. It got a new lease in life in 1997 thanks to a movie adaptation starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, and a revised production premiered on Broadway in 2013. That production has never officially been staged in the UK, apart from a staged concert production in 2019 but that has all changed in this – the European theatrical premiere of the Broadway production. Don't expect this Cinderella to graffiti penises on statues though - this steers closer to the original fairytale, with a few twists thrown in for good measure.
One of the most impressive details about this production of Cinderella is how visually striking it is. With their previous productions, the Hope Mill Theatre have become known for pushing the boundaries of what can be possible in a relatively small and unconventional space and Cinderella pushes that even further, with clever set design from Ellie Wdowski and an ingenious use of video projection, designed by George Reeve. From the moment the cast first appear behind a curtain with their faces lit up one at a time, you know you are in for something special – and that feeling continues throughout the entire performance.
The press night of Cinderella was delayed after star Grace Mouat injured her foot – now back in the production after a short absence, she delivered an admirable and inspiring performance where “the show must go on” took on a new meaning. Other than some last minute tweaks to the story to allow for Grace’s injury (Yes, she can’t actually put her foot in the shoe at the end but this is dealt with in a smart twist), you wouldn’t have known there was anything amiss with this which is a testament to the incredible performance Grace delivered. She has proven herself to be a formidable talent with roles in &Juliet, Six and Legally Blonde and here she is proving her undeniable talents once again in a career-best performance. In a role she was born to play, Grace shines as the titular Cinderella, balancing a sweetness with a more cocksure approach, all while demonstrating a truly sensational singing voice.
Every Cinderella needs a Prince and this one is played by Jacob Fowler in a truly stunning portrayal of Prince Topher. While he may have won over a legion of fans in his turn as JD in Heathers, Jacob swaps bullets for balls in a role that couldn’t be any further away from his last one. Cinderella sees Jacob tap in to another element of his voice and characterisation skills which really showcases his greatest attributes. A truly phenomenal performer, he delivers a suitably charming performance. With Grace, he exhibits a believable chemistry with an authentic feeling love that carries the story and elevates it to another level.
The rest of the cast are equally impressive in a truly cohesive unit of unrivalled stars gathered on one small stage. Annie Aitken is delightfully mad as Madame, evoking comparisons to Moira Rose in Schitt’s Creek. With fantastic inflictions on her voice and mannerisms, she is constantly a joy to watch. Similarly, her two daughters Charlotte and Gabrielle, played by Katie Ramshaw and Olivia-Faith Kamau, deliver fantastic performances, both as a double act and in their own right, in a production that refreshingly fleshes out their own stories. This works particularly well in Gabrielle’s case, with Olivia beautifully portraying a nuanced character that grows throughout.
Adam Filipe is charismatic in his portrayal of Jean-Michel while Lee Ormsby and Matthew McDonald are fabulous as Sebastian and Lord Pinkleton. Perhaps, the standout performance aside from the two leads goes to Julie Yammanee as Marie/Fairy Godmother. Truly embracing the duality of the role, she is wonderfully weird as Marie before her beautiful transformation into the Godmother in a role that threatens to steal the scene whenever she so much as struts on stage. A jaw-dropping talent, she really was a complete joy to watch.
Any Rodgers & Hammerstein show comes with the expectation of the highest standard songs in theatre, and Cinderella more than lives up to this, with a consistently incredible score. Highlights include Grace’s early and legendary solo ‘In My Own Little Corner’ (just try not to sing another Cinderella song over the melody), the insanely catchy ‘The Prince Is Giving A Ball’, the fantastic ‘Impossible, It’s Possible’ and the suitably gorgeous duet between Grace and Jacob ‘Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?’. All these classic numbers are performed to their maximum potential thanks to the limitlessly talented cast, with musical direction from Audra Cramer, supervision from Leo Munby and new arrangements by Jason Carr making them sound more glorious than ever before.
Incredible direction from Joseph Houston and choreography from William Whelton (who also co-directs) leads all elements of this production to ensure it is as meticulously polished as possible, and it works. With stunning lighting from Aaron J Dootson, this is consistently breath-taking to witness and always beautiful to listen to, this production really is a feast for the senses and completely fautless.
If I had high expectations for this production of Rodgers + Hammersteins Cinderella, they were not only met but completely smashed. Ingenious staging and a cast that can only be described as perfect are completely befitting of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s legacy. Furthering the already impressive reputation the Hope Mill Theatre has, it’s just a shame that, like Cinderella, it is only there for a short time before disappearing into the night. If there’s any justice, however, it will go on to get a further life elsewhere. It certainly deserves to. This production is a reminder of the very best of what theatre can achieve – finally, we have a Cinderella that isn’t Bad.
Rodgers + Hammersteins Cinderella plays at the Hope Mill Theatre until December 11th. Tickets from www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk
Photos by Pamela Raith