Dallas — Sometimes you just gotta admit that while a musical isn’t going to win any awards for writing, music or sense-making, it’s still a lot of fun. If only it were that easy with Soho Cinders, the updated Cinderella story having its American premiere at Uptown Players, directed by John de los Santos with musical direction by Adam C. Wright.
The show, with music by George Stiles and book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe and Elliot Davis, had been brewing in London for years before its official world premiere in 2012.
In this tale, Robbie (Peter DiCesare) is a rentboy—excuse me, “escort”—with two obnoxious stepsisters, Dana (Kim Borge) and Clodagh (Stephanie Felton). Robbie is loved by an older, closeted politician who’s helping him find his family history, and a possible inheritance, Lord Bellingham (Frances Henry); but Rob’s having an affair with a handsome up-and-coming politician, James Prince (Sean Burroughs), who’s keeping a straight public face with his socialite fiancée Marilyn (Janelle Lutz). The only one with sense is Robbie’s best gal-pal, the spastic Velcro (Brett Warner Hurt, in the show’s standout performance). The conflict in the plot happens with a public outing.
Considering it’s inspired by one of the most famous fairy tales, we know the story is going to be predictable. But do the songs have to be? It’s like the creators ordered a “Let’s Make a Musical!” kit and plugged in all the typical song types you can find in any generic, pop-pastiche, contemporary musical—especially the ones adapted from a movie or other source.
Examples: The company opens with “Old Compton Street,” the expository sense-of-place song that’s become such a cliché that much more clever musicals like Avenue Q and Urinetown parody it. The wackiest characters, the stepsisters, deliciously played by Felton and Borge, have the upbeat, defiant “you go girl” number, “I’m So Over Men”—see “My Strongest Suit” from the musical Aida or “Bend and Snap” from Legally Blonde. And how about the realization-of-unrequited-love tune when Robbie sings “They Don’t Make Glass Slippers,” à la “I Know the Truth” from Aida. All of those songs in the other musicals are much better than the ones in Soho Cinders. It didn't help that on opening night, a good chunk of the chorus numbers were tarnished with sour notes and burned-out endings.
The only song that’s halfway memorable is “Let Him Go,” a duet sung by Velcro and Marilyn, by far the best moment in Uptown’s production; Hurt and Lutz do it justice.
Another burning question about a show inspired by Cinderella: The minor character of Sidesaddle (Sara Shelby-Martin) has one scene that implies she’s the Fairy Godmother character; but there’s also a narrator who doesn't do much narrating, played by Linda Leonard. Why not combine them into one character?
Some performers, especially the vets like Leonard and Martin, give it their best silk-purse try. Felton wins the popularity contest for her funny, physical performance, and the hunky Sean Burroughs is a good find for the area as a young, leading man who can sing, even if he’s bland in this beige role. Ian Mead Moore has moments as the "bad guy," a scheming political consultant named William. Hurt blows everyone away with the only character worth caring about.
At least the production looks great, with Michelle Harvey’s double-level scenic design and set pieces that easily change out, accented with smart multi-media design by H. Bart Mcgeehon; and as usual, Suzi Cranford’s costumes are spot-on, as are Coy Covington’s wigs, especially for Marilyn.
A musical that’s unapologetic, silly fun is one thing—when it’s flawlessly executed. But a dopey show with not an ounce of originality doesn’t deserve the glass-slipper treatment.