The Hope Mill always brings something exciting every Christmas season, and this year is no different. This year they bring the European Premiere of Roger & Hammerstein's Cinderella, not to be confused with Andrew Lloyd Webbers recent musical! In this bold retelling of the classic story, Ella lives with her selfish stepmother and stepsisters. Meanwhile Prince Topher is convinced to throw a ball to meet potential brides.
After seeing their incredible award-winning production of Rent, I rarely allow myself to miss anything at Hope Mill Theatre. The Rogers & Hammerstein version of the classic tale was first produced for television in 1957 with Julie Andrews, later famously revived in 1997 with Brandy and the late Whitney Houston. It finally found its way to Broadway in 2013 and this is the version that has arrived in Manchester for its European premiere.
There wasn't a single performer in the tight 17-person strong company who didn’t stand out. Jacob Fowler embodied Prince Topher and Annie Aitken hilariously channelled Moira Rose in the role of Madame. Julie Yammanee was outstanding as Marie/Fairy Godmother with her powerhouse vocals, which I relished hearing powering well above her microphone from the front row. I could continue to call out each member of the formidable cast, but will address the leading lady herself.
When I booked my ticket, I was immediately sold at the mention of Grace Mouat being in the lead role. As far as I am concerned, if you can cover all six roles in ‘Six: The Musical’, then you can pretty much do anything! Despite my expectations being (unreasonably) high, Mouat more than delivered. Her vocals were flawlessly beautiful and she was clearly born to play the role. Disaster had previously struck, when she had to temporarily bow out of the show due to injury. However even with her foot in a ‘walker boot’ she proved that the show really must go on, with a few clever alterations to get around trying on the infamous glass slipper! Although not the only twist in the classic tale, the story was very true to the one that we all know and love.
Immediately from the Overture, the score is beautifully textbook Rogers & Hammerstein. I was previously only aware of the heart warming ‘It’s Possible’ from the many associated memes from the classic 1997 recording. However, with laugh out loud moments such as ‘Stepsisters Lament’ to the stunning duet ‘Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful’ this score is exceptional throughout. You will most certainly be letting everyone know ‘The Prince Is Having A Ball’ all the way home… this is at least what I imagine the dozens of young theatre goers were annoying their parents with on their way home! The powerful 7-piece band led by Audra Cramer were faultless, having to use a curtained off area adjacent to the room itself, to account for the bold staging.
Hope Mill only seats up to a maximum of 120 patrons, so is the perfect setting for an understated and intimate performance. The space however was transformed beyond recognition for Cinderella, and was anything but understated. Every millimetre of stage was maximised by set and costume designer Elly Wdowski. Clever projections were used on both the curtain and the back of stage to great effect. The surprising use of a revolve was unexpected and used well, without ever feeling like a gimmick in the small space.
William Whelton’s choreography was impressive, from Newsies-esq mid-air splits to expertly choreographed ‘Tambourine-ography’. In fact, everything about this production was West End standard. Hope Mill have proven once again that they can transform their space, and any show, into an intimate spectacular. If you want to know how intimate and spectacular can be used in the same sentence, grab one of the last remaining tickets before Cinderella ends on 11 December 2022.