Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Simply Cinderella

Grant Olding (music and lyrics) and Toby Davies (book)
Curve, Leicester
(2009)

Publicity image

Bosses at Leicester's frighteningly expensive, £61m, revolutionary space Curve had the opportunity to make a bold statement with their first production - but they've blown it.

Instead of putting on a blockbuster which would have had theatregoers queuing at the door or a show which would have demonstrated a particular artistic policy, the management had especially written the world premiere of a musical which is unlikely to be performed anywhere else in its present form.

Simply Cinderella is the work of Grant Olding (music and lyrics) and Toby Davies (book). They've taken the traditional fairy tale and changed large chunks of it, setting some of the production in the present day and the rest in 1939 and 1940.

They combine elements of panto with fantasy while trying to retain a serious undercurrent - but Simply Cinderella lacks an identity and doesn't leave a lasting impression. Not even acclaimed director and choreographer Adam Cooper can work his magic.

If it weren't for an enthusiastic, talented cast who throw themselves wholeheartedly into the production, Simply Cinderella would be a total disappointment.

The first part of the show features Cinderella working in a shoe factory which used to be a classy hotel with a ballroom. Somehow she's transported back to the ballroom's heyday where she meets not Prince Charming but the singer with the resident band who's known as the Prince of Rhythm.

In a strange twist on the original, the couple don't get to live happily ever after as they return to their own time zones. But Cinderella's shoe designs manage to save the factory which is facing closure through lack of business. Not only does it seem far-fetched - it's pretty contrived too.

Savannah Stevenson gives a lively, glowing performance as Cinderella, her regional accent adding an endearing quality to her singing voice. Alongside her Raj Ghatak is a smooth charmer as Prince.

The humour, which is on the sparse side, comes largely from Cinderella's two sisters, Coral, convincingly depicted by Emma-Jane Appleyard, and plump Pearl, who in Jenna Boyd's capable hands adds a new dimension to the epithet chav.

Francis O'Connor's multi-layered set which serves as the shoe factory, Cinderella's home and the Palace Hotel ballroom is superb; the 1930s costumes are sparklingly elegant; and the seven-piece band led by Richard Balcombe play hardly a wrong note all night.

Dawn Hope as Cinderella's "dead" mother Helena impresses with a powerful vocal range. But did I occasionally detect a note of resignation in her voice as she belts out numbers whose quality isn't what she's used to?

The songs are almost without exception ordinary. Even The Champagne Slip, which is reprised at the end of the show, isn't particularly memorable.

And some of the lyrics are dreadful, such as Where's That Girl? in which Prince describes Cinderella as "a slippery fish for sure", and A Brand New Beat which is cringingly banal.

A number of seats in the auditorium which houses 800 were unoccupied when I saw Simply Cinderella which is well into its run.

It's been two years since Leicester had a major theatre after the demise of the Haymarket. Its replacement, the oval, glass construction known as Curve, prides itself on its transparency which allows everyone to see what's going on inside. Unfortunately, it's evident for everyone to see that Simply Cinderella doesn't create much of a spell.

"Simply Cinderella" runs until January 24th

Reviewer: Steve Orme