Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote their version of Cinderella as a television spectacular, broadcast live in 1957. One hundred and seven million tuned in to watch Julie Andrews' Cinders. Although a pantomime version played in London, featuring Kenneth Williams and Tommy Steele, the Bristol Old Vic effectively brings us the British premiere.
Something of a scoop then for Bristol, and this is indeed as delicious as a scoop of interval ice cream. Thanks to Laura Hopkins' quirky designs and Timothy Sheader's sparkling direction, the production leaps into imaginative life from the moment Helen Hobson's terrific Godmother opens the show with her magical umbrella wand.
Much of the delight is in the wit and sophistication. This is the most elegant Godmother you'll ever see, and she's well matched by Kate Graham's sexy, power-dressed Stepmother, almost a genuine contender for the Prince's hand. The stepsisters are played not in drag (Kenneth Williams played a sister), but by Sirine Saba and Daniele Coombe, well-matched performers with a gift for comedy. Saba's Portia aspires to the intellect of her Shakespearian namesake and Coombe labours under the misapprehension that she's the pretty one to astute comic effect.
The pretty one is of course Cinderella, a dainty winsome Sophie Bould, attractively filling Julie Andrews' glass slippers. They're actually scarlet slippers, with a nod to The Red Shoes, acknowledged in the programme, and perhaps to The Wizard of Oz. Bould certainly makes a lovely lady in red, and her love scenes with Simon Thomas's appropriately tall, dark and handsome (though yoyo-playing) Prince are genuinely touching and tender.
Musical Director Philip Bateman gets fine performances out of cast and band alike, especially Hobson and Graham, both in glorious voice. And "The Stepsisters' Lament", deploring the Prince's choice, is a long-awaited showstopper.
For this reviewer the disappointment is the song writing itself, for the music, although charming enough, consists of songs that merged into another and they didn't leave anyone humming afterwards.
In the end then, this is indeed as tasty as ice cream, but not really sufficient to satisfy the appetite it whets. Although this production garners four stars, only three can be given for the late, great Rodgers and Hammerstein.