I had no intention of writing a review - others have done so more eloquently and more objectively than I (see below) and with all the right people name-checked for their various contributions - but what started out as a quick summary grew as I wrote, so...
My usual expectation-management habit had totally failed me on this one, but I needn't have worried... QDOS Entertainment's spectacular new production of Cinderella more than lives up to the not inconsiderable hype surrounding the return of pantomime to the West End for the first time in nearly three decades.
Opening last night at the London Palladium, the show is a glitter fest of high camp and innuendo-laden comedy, with beautifully designed sets, ever more lavish costumes, impressive effects and a huge but tightly choreographed ensemble showing that investment in this grandest panto in the land goes far deeper than a cast crammed with the best in the business - that many of them are also household names is great for grabbing headlines, but I believe QDOS have kept their promise to cast for talent rather than celebrity.
With so many stars (and their star turns!) to accommodate, the much-loved story does sometimes feel a little secondary, but that is easy to forgive when the star turns are this good. Less easy to forgive from my admittedly biased standpoint, is the removal of Lee Mead's feather duster... no repeat this year of one of my favourite moments of Cardiff's Cinderella, his place in "If I Were Not In Pantomime" usurped by a certain Fairy Godmother! But happily his talent for slapstick, rendered all the more impressive by his ability to simultaneously sing Love Changes Everything, is given full rein in the 'wall scene' played out with exquisite timing alongside Cinderella (Natasha J Barnes) and Buttons (Paul Zerdin).
To the Meady fan, there is much that is familiar in this 'new' production, not least Lee's now traditional rendition of Any Dream Will Do, complete with Julian Clary's ascerbic asides, this year stirring memories not only of his own part in the Joseph story but also of all the Josephs who trod this Palladium stage before him - fitting that Andrew Lloyd Webber should be there to hear it. But it was one of Gary Hind's new songs, written for this production, that I came away humming - the lyrical, romantic duet What Are The Chances, Lee and Natasha's voices blending beautifully as they danced (carefully, given the sheer volume of dress between them) until the clock struck twelve...
At three hours, the show is a good half-hour too long (unless they want to give Prince Charming an extra number or two!) but the pace never flags and if any element doesn't appeal - for me, Count Arthur Strong's schtick is a taste I have yet to acquire - it soon passes as a tap-dancing pumpkin or a flying Vespa or a gorgeous Prince whisks you back into the laughter-filled heart of this glorious romp of a show!
The press reviews have for the most part been hugely positive, 4**** the most common rating, but a few have questioned whether there is simply too much smut for a family show. I think this rather misses the point of panto's multi-level fun and though I agree there is perhaps less for young children in this production than in your average panto, this is anything but your average panto... so while anyone expecting Cinderella in the West End to be more Disney than risqué may find themselves offended, I reckon everyone else will be rather rudely but right royally entertained.
Read what the press have to say (hover for rating/click to read):
Cinderella runs at the Palladium until 15 January 2017, more info here. Best ticket availability is in January (family deal available - see the show's website for details).
Production photos above: Paul Coltas and Steve Williams. Below: Ro (left), What's On Stage (centre), Daniel Friar (right).
Last updated: 10 January 2017