With Cinderella, Webber achieves something only he can do… A ‘coup de theatre’

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As if to reward us for our patience, ALW delivers a show the likes of which he has never done before. It’s funny, for a start. It’s raunchy, both lyrically and in its sassy, saucy, come-here-big-boy attitude.

At times it verges on a Julian Clary panto – more camp than a row of tents. And even if there are no truly memorable songs, it is tuneful and varied.

Located in the “perfect” town of Belleville, this Cinderella is the story of a young Goth (Carrie Hope Fletcher) who embraces her outsider status having been forced into domestic servitude by her stepmother (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) and stepsisters (Georgina Castle & Laura Baldwin).

Her only friend is Sebastian (Ivano Turco, making his West End debut), the younger brother of the dashing warrior Prince Charming who is missing in action and presumed dead.

The Queen — Rebecca Trehearn as a wonderfully louche Marie Antoinette type — insists on throwing a ball to find a suitable bride for Sebastian in order to restore Belleville’s fortunes which are wrecked when Cinderella defaces the statue of Prince Charming and the town loses its “most beautiful” status.

ALW and his co-conspirators Emerald Fennell (story and book) and David Zippel (lyrics) throw every hot button topic into the mix, including gay marriage, militant feminism, and cosmetic surgery in what some might view as a cynical attempt to appeal to the Woke generation.

A dance sequence involving incredibly buff half-naked men looks like an outtake from Magic Mike; Cinderella’s transformation is conducted by a diabolical Grace Jones look-a-like (Gloria Onitiri) and ends up at the ball looking like everyone else.

Midnight strikes and things go decidedly haywire, though not in the way expected.

In spite of mixed messages and an air of slightly outdated progressiveness, the production is enormous fun and entertaining on an epic scale.

Performances are all good – Fletcher is a superb singer and can turn a grace note into a growl in a nano-second; Hamilton-Barritt pushes the wicked stepmother figure into another dimension by lowering her voice to a 40-a-day rasping baritone and moving like an arthritic snake. Her French-inflected duet with Trehearn’s Queen is a mischievous remodelling of the Maurice Chevalier/Hermoine Gingold duet from Gigi (I Remember it Well) and pretty well stops the show.

And having been a quiet presence throughout, Turco pulls off a solo dance sequence towards the end that has the audience screaming their appreciation. Technically, it’s superb, of course.

And ALW gives us a coup de theatre in the second half that only he is capable of (he’s the only one who can afford it) when the proscenium stage revolves to morph into another formation.

This is ALW as both Barnum AND Bailey. It’s Showtime, folks.

Gillian Lynne Theatre, until May 29, 2022; tickets: 0207 087 7750

Cabaret

Rebecca Frecknall’s immersive production stars Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley and tickets are selling out fast. Check the website for entry into The Kit Kat Club.

Playhouse Theatre, November 15-February 1, 2022

Big Big Sky

A small play with a big big heart, Tom Wells’s impeccably crafted four-hander is set in a seaside cafe in a remote part of East Yorkshire.

Young waitress Lauren (Jennifer Jolleys) has left the family home and her hapless widower father Dennis (Matt Sutton), who pops in for leftovers at the end of the day from cafe owner Angie (Jennifer Daley).

This delicate and unspoken arrangement is rearranged with the arrival of young, anxious Ed (Sam Newton) who has a job protecting nesting seabirds from predators – animal and human.

As the subtext of each personality is revealed, Wells’s play takes on a reality that goes well beyond theatrical artifice and, aided by a quartet of outstanding performances, makes you believe you are watching four fundamentally decent people struggling with loss and grief as they try to find their way across the slippery pebbles of life.

A bittersweet gem that squeezes the heart before sending you out with recharged faith in human nature. See it if you can.

Hampstead Theatre, until September 11; tickets: 0207 722 9301

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Coronation Street’s Wendi Peters stars with Bill Ward in this stage adaptation of the terrifying Gothic romance as the Headless Horseman gallops around the country from the end of September. 

UK Tour, September 30-December 4

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