You come out of Old Compton Street in Soho into Old Compton Street on Morgan Large's design for Soho Cinders, a lively, jaunty, re-telling of the Cinderella story with an outré gay twist.
More of a gay wrench, really, with Tom Milner’s fresh-faced rent boy, Robbie, torn between love for a bisexual mayoral candidate, Jamie Prince (Michael Xavier), and the grip of a nasty businessman, Lord Bellingham (Neil McCaul), who’s Prince’s principal backer.
But even after workshops and a one-off West End performance last year, the show still has an awkward narrative voice-over (Stephen Fry) and a thinly written, and thinly acted, second half.
And somehow the political satire of an exposed public figure - Xavier looks like an elongated Nick Clegg and has a glamorous lawyer fiancée (the under-used Jenna Russell) - sounds ever so yesterday. Old Compton Street itself is described as a glittering back passage of prostitutes and smart boys, which I suppose it is.
But even that evocation seems more dated and less vivid than Lionel Bart's in Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, deliciously revived last year at the Union with Elliot Davis as musical director. Robbie's best friend (and the show's best performance) is Amy Lennox's laundry girl Velcro - Buttons without all the fuss - who sticks by him when his grotesque step-sisters, Clodagh and Dana (Suzie Chard and Beverly Rudd, both gloriously obese), slap an eviction order on his mum's launderette.
The complications in Robbie's inheritance are smothered in the political sub-plot as Prince is hung out to dry by his own spin doctor (a right beardy bastard played by Gerard Carey) and comes clean in his private life. After the sinuous second act opener at the fund-raiser (“Who’s That Boy?”), and a couple of decent love songs, the sisters ratchet up proceedings with their “Fifteen Minutes” (of fame) - “A scandal shouldn’t spoilt it, we’re gonna Susan Boyle it.”
I have a lot of time for Stiles and Drewe, though some of it was draining away in the second act. Their Betty Blue Eyes was unjustly overshadowed by Matilda last year, and they write likeable, well-crafted songs with excellent lyrics. Perhaps they sometimes lack the killer punch, but their ensemble numbers here, much enhanced by Drew McOnie's choreography and a skilful company, are highly enjoyable.
Orchestrations by David Shrubsole and musical direction by Stephen Ridley are first-class, too, with a terrific six-piece band perched on the upper level of the Soho. It's a small-scale show that, for all its imperfections, has a big heart and a high level of technical execution.