I always forget that London has few shows playing on Sundays. Matilda was hella-sold-out. The tkts boards were pretty grim (Thriller, Shrek). But I had read a nice review of the Tabard Theatre's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella in Time Out London. I decided it was worth checking it out.
This was a situation that could have been disastrous that turned out quite delightful indeed. The theater is a small black box with the stage practically on your lap. My high school theater was larger and more grandiose so it was actually quite luxurious to enjoy a musical in such an intimate setting. Though the costumes were pretty dreadful (and somewhat distracting--I was worried Cinderella's boobs might come flying out of the bustier thing she was wearing at any moment), the terrific cast, whimsical set and lovely foam puppets made up for it.
Kirsty Mann plays Cinderella with sweetness and the required amount of put-upon-ness. Her evil stepsisters are broadly played for comic effect by Kate Scott and Lydia Jenkins (who looks uncannily like a young Jackie Hoffman). Helen Colby sinks her teeth into two characters: first she plays the evil stepmother with whip and bustier, and then the sweet fairy godmother. Vlach Ashton (a dreamy Robert Sean Leonard-type with giant Disney Princess eyes) plays the Prince.
All their voices were terrific. As much as each character is a bit of a caricature, the actors were well-cast for these roles. I thought the step-sisters comedy was a little too broad for my liking (I think it played better for the kids). But I enjoyed the stepmother trying to seduce Lionel, the Prince's assistant and the comic bit of one girl trying on the glass slipper in an array of disguises. The romance between Cinderella and the Prince is sweet and dear. The songs are enjoyable. Although this was a low budget production, it still managed to cast the requisite magical spell over the audience. I happened to like the set and prop pieces such as the crystal chandelier-tree, the Chinese lanterns as glowing pumpkins and the foam puppet birds and mice.
Although the theater was teeming with a large group of little girls at a birthday party they were all shockingly well-behaved. They clapped at appropriate times, did not speak throughout the two hour production, and seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves (though several covered their eyes when their was kissing).
The show is a lite, sweet treat. For me, after two really dark shows that weekend, it was a lovely, warm diversion on a cold winter day in London. Although this audience was largely children, I think a more robust production of Cinderella on a larger stage could win over adults.* There is something about the show's fairy tale magic that works when the original music is so darling.
*I know that there is a a "reconceived" version of the original 1957 TV version in the works. The Tabard production was adapted from the 1997 TV version written by Robert L. Freedman so it is already an updated version of the original work.