Director – John de los Santos
Music Director – Adam C. Wright
Set Designer – Michelle Harvey
Lighting Designer – Dan Schoedel
Multimedia Designer – H. Bart Mcgeehon
Costume Designer – Suzi Cranford
Hair/Wig/Makeup Designer – Coy Covington
Sound Designer – Virgil Justice
Properties Designer – Jo Anne Hull
Stage Manager – Matt Grevan
Dana – Kim Borge
James – Sean Burroughs
Robbie – Peter DiCesare
Clodagh – Stephanie Felton
Sasha – Clinton Greenspan
Lord Bellingham – Francis (Hank) Henry
Velcro – Brett Warrner Hurt
Narrator – Linda Leonard
Marilyn – Janelle Lutz
Sidesaddle – Sara Shelby-Martin
William – Ian Mead Moore
Ensemble – Clinton Greenspan, Kelly Holmes, Drew Kelly, Sara Shelby-Martin, Nikki McDonald, Steve Robert Pounds, Blake Rogers, and Molly Welch.
Keyboard/Conductor – Adam C. Wright
Bass – Rick Norman
Guitar I – Samuel Walker
Guitar II – Scott Eckert
Percussion – Nathaniel T. Collins
Reviewed Performance 6/15/2014
Reviewed by Mark-Brian Sonna, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Uptown Players is presenting the U.S. debut of London’s West-end hit musical, Soho Cinders. This is quite a coupe for the theatre company and it’s clear to see by their production why it’s been so popular across the pond.
Soho Cinders is a modern re-telling of the Cinderella story. The difference is that the action takes place present day in London’s Soho district. Cinderella is actually a fella by the name of Robbie who works as an escort in order to pay for his college books. His two stepsisters are ladies of the night, and his prince is a London mayoral candidate engaged to a woman. The fairy Godmother? None really exists in this production but the person closest to this character is his best friend Velcro who doesn’t perform any magic but simply encourages him to believe in himself. The story uses a narrator that also serves as commentator and at times appears as a character in various scenes. Instead of a glass slipper, a cell phone serves as the item left behind at the “arty.
The production is zesty, fun, and full of wonderful tunes. It skewers political grandstanding, the tabloid press, and the hypocrisy of the upper classes that pretend to not succumb to baser instincts. The musical is at times a satire, a farce, a slapstick comedy, yet it also has heart. It is a very engaging musical.
Uptown’s production is solidly good and quite enjoyable but it is not perfect. There is abundant talent in the cast, but where the show falters is in the direction.
John de los Santos is a very talented director, but in this production there’s a lack of focus. Act 1 is very much a romp, and it contains panoply of musical numbers which parody different musical genres. Act 2 is more serious because it shows the consequences of some of the hastily-made decisions by all, and the music is mainly ballads which serve as monologues and soliloquies for the characters. However, as directed and choreographed, the two acts are very similar in tone and lessen the impact of the story.
Another problem is with the casting. While there isn’t a bad performer in the cast, the choices de los Santos made are strange. Sean Burroughs plays mayoral candidate James Prince. While Burroughs has strong stage presence, a glorious voice, and does his best to make his character believable, he simply is too young for the role, looking like he’s in his early twenty’s while the character, per the storyline, dialogue and lyrics, is closer to forty. Ian Mead Moore plays the political advisor William, and while he attempts to be Machiavellian, physically he is too youthful to come across as a seasoned political veteran. The only performer that is able to overcome the obstacle of her youthful age is Janelle Lutz who plays Marilyn, the fiancée to the mayor. Her poise, gestures and movements are that of a thirty eight-year-old woman. Lutz’ portrayal brings gravitas to the show and is the strongest performance of the entire cast. It also helped that her costumes and wig aged her.
Though not credited, de los Santos is also responsible for the choreography. I am a great admirer of his choreography work but in this production the dancing lacks variety and don’t always reflect the various musical styles that the show encompasses. For what is supposed to be a contemporary musical, the choreography is reminiscent of the boy band choreography of the late 90’s and early 00’s.
Peter DiCesare plays the lead, Robbie, with such an infectious and genuine enthusiasm that he charms the entire audience from the moment he steps onstage. It is easy to see why James Prince and Lord Bellingham fall in love with his character. Vocally he’s quite expressive and is able to capture a wide range of emotions with his tone.
Lord Bellingham is played by Francis (Hank) Henry. Henry’s portrayal is spot on. His inner conflict on breaking society’s norms by taking on a “rent” boy is genuine. Normally, a character like this would be disliked by the audience, but Henry makes him sympathetic.
Velcro, Robbie’s best friend and confidant, is played with much zest by Brett Warner Hurt. Her comedic timing is dazzling. It would be easy to play her as a one-note character, but Hurt makes her three-dimensional. Her feelings towards Robbie are genuine and she is able to make the transition from campy comedy to serious drama seamless.
Dana and Clodagh, the two stepsisters, are played by Kim Borge and Stephanie Felton. These characters are there to provide the biggest laughs. The two women chew the scenery with gusto. Their bodacious wigs and outfits are perfect and add to the zaniness of the characters. It helps that both women know how to work their outfits to great effect. Their two musical numbers, “I’m Over Men” and “Fifteen Minutes”, are show stoppers. To see Felton pole dance and Borge’s attempt at twerking while her character is pregnant is almost worth the price of admission.
Linda Leonard plays the role of Narrator with the correct amount of sass, irony and aplomb. Leonard has an alluring presence, and every time she steps out on the stage she is able to hold the audience in the palm of her hand.
Clinton Greenspan as Sasha and Sara Shelby-Martin as Sidesaddle round out the principal roles, and even though their roles aren’t as large, they hold their own amongst the sea of talent on stage.
The ensemble is “tight” in their musical numbers and do very good work portraying all the numerous and miscellaneous people in the musical, and Steve Robert Pounds and Drew Kelly are standouts in their ability to clearly define each of their characters.
Suzi Cranford’s costuming and Coy Covington’s wigs and make-up design are good and capture the flavor of all the characters. Where they excelled was in the costuming, wigging, and the make-up of the step sisters, for they were just as outrageous as the characters, and Marilyn, by making her look like a sophisticated 38 year old woman.
Adam C. Wright’s musical direction is effective. Though the orchestra is limited to five musicians, his arrangements are able to carry through the diverse musical styles this musical encompasses. I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize Nathaniel T. Collin’s percussion, for it is impressive.
The set design by Michelle Harvey is clever in design. It is bi-level, with compartments which would open up to help identify the five principal locations for the musical. But because the musical doesn’t just take place in five locations, H. Bart Mcgeehon’s projections aid in establishing the other numerous areas of London. Unfortunately, the lighting design by Dan Schoedel doesn’t illuminate the set properly. The overuse of special lighting effects, such as abrupt light changes during the musical numbers, frequently leave the performers in an unflattering color, and in light that is too dim. There is a consistent problem with follow spots which don’t always follow the performers.
I cannot emphasize how wonderful the score is for Soho Cinders. It contains some very memorable tunes. “Gypsies of the Ether” is a sublime ballad, and Burroughs and DiCesare do it justice. “Let Him Go” is heartbreaking, and both Lutz and Hurt bring every nuance in both the lyrics and melody.
Should you go see Soho Cinders? Yes! It’s darn good. It’s fun, silly and thoroughly enjoyable. Is it perfect? No. But the good outweighs the bad, making it worth your time. It’s also your chance to see a musical never seen before in this country, making you one of the first to be “in the know.” Go!
Kalita Humphries Theater
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd
Dallas, TX 75219
Running through June 22nd
Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm