Mercury offers feel-good boy-meets-boy fairytale, ‘Soho Cinders’
By Bob Abelman
Composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe have made a career out of adding music to famous fairytales like “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Three Little Pigs” and “Mary Poppins,” and bringing them to the stage.
In Mercury Theatre’s “Soho Cinders,” a show that received its world premiere in London’s off-West End in 2012 and has rarely been seen elsewhere since, the Cinderella story has been significantly re-envisioned. Its infrequent stagings are no doubt due to the nature of its reincarnation as a decidedly naughty modern musical rather than the quality of the work itself, which is arguably some of Stiles and Drewe’s best.
Nearly everything takes place on Old Compton Street — the seedy center of London’s gay scene – which has been significantly sanitized courtesy of Nicholas Thornburg’s simple and handsomely crafted Soho flat exterior and pull-out scenery, Michael Jarett’s colorful projections, and director Pierre-Jacques Brault’s artistic vision.
This vision populates the neighborhood with a young, affable and good looking ensemble (Matthew Brightbill, Sophia Dennis, Sydney Mahon, Courtney Anne Nelson, Brandon Schumacher, Noah Vega, Brooke Vespoli, Jake Washabaugh, Bill Wetherbee) who wander through the city street in perfect synchrony to the rhythms of Washabaugh’s modern dance choreography.
It is there that we meet our wide-eyed and good-hearted hero, Robbie (Mason Henning) while being evicted from his flat by his foul-mouthed, strip-club owning stepsisters, Clodagh (Amiee Collier) and Dana (Kelvette Beacham). He is also being squeezed out of the laundromat he runs with best friend Velcro (Kennedy Ellis), which is frequented by an adorable sidekick named Sidesaddle (Lynette Turner).
Robbie is romantically involved with London’s charming and clandestinely gay mayoral candidate, James Prince (Brian Marshall), whose faux-fiancé (Melissa Siegel) discovers Robbie’s glass slipper – rather, his lost mobile phone – while attending a political fundraiser staged by Prince’s two-faced campaign manager (Joe Monaghan) and his put-upon assistant (Meredith Aleigha Wells).
The show is infused with Stiles and Drewe songs that range from gorgeous ballads like “Gypsies of the Ether,” performed with pitch-perfect harmonies by Henning and Marshall, the torch song “Let Him Go,” beautifully sung by Siegel and Ellis, and an assortment of high-energy production numbers like “Spin” that are brilliantly executed by the triple-threat ensemble. Everything is backed by a superb five-piece band under Eddie Carney’s direction.
Most remarkably, Mercury’s production finds a common ground for the often incompatible emotional realism of the story, its fable-based characters, and the romanticized songs they tend to sing.
As such, it provides an effective platform for the contrasting but equally exceptional acting turned in by the thoroughly endearing Ellis as the supportive but long-suffering Velcro and the deliciously over-the-top comedy delivered by the scenery-devouring Collier and Beacham as the sex-driven step-sisters.
But this approach to the work also sacrifices some of its intended edginess, which undermines a secondary and rather sordid storyline that revolves around Robbie’s relationship with an older man (Paul Hoffman).
This is no great loss, considering that the show’s happy-ever-after ending is the big payoff of this fractured and reconfigured fairytale, which nicely complements the production of “Disney’s My Son Pinocchio” that is running in repertory.
“Soho Cinders” by Mercury Theatre Company
WHERE: Notre Dame College’s Regina Hall, 1857 S. Green Rd., S. Euclid
WHEN: Through June 23
TICKETS & INFO: $16-$20, call 216-771-5862 or visit mercurytheatrecompany.org
Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3. 2017 AP Ohio Media Editors best columnist.
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on June 10, 2018.
Lead image: Mason Henning as Robbie and Kennedy Ellis as Velcro. Photo / Daren Stahl Photography