Cinderella review – a rapturous Rodgers and Hammerstein fairytale

A foot injury meant Grace Mouat missed several previews for Cinderella, yet go to the ball she shall – albeit wearing a supportive walking boot rather than a pair of glass slippers. Mind you, who cares about fabulous footwear with performances like these? Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical combines rapturous numbers including Impossible (“Such fol-de-rol and fiddledy dee of course is!”) with the crotchety comedy of Stepsisters’ Lament and honeyed ballads. They’re delivered with verve by a young cast blending earnest sweetness with frothy mischief.

It’s taken almost 10 years for this Broadway version to reach Europe in a fully staged production. Unveiled in 2013, it took songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1957 made-for-TV musical, which starred Julie Andrews, and added a new book by Douglas Carter Beane. It’s a coup for Joseph Houston and William Whelton’s pint-sized Hope Mill to be presenting such a premiere but their theatre always punches above its weight. This is a Broadway musical that looks snug, rather than squeezed, on a more modest stage.

Houston directs, with Whelton as co-director and choreographer, and a sophisticated assemblage of lighting (by Aaron J Dootson), projection (George Reeve) and set design (Elly Wdowski) sets the warm tone as the cast first appear behind gauze, faces glowing among fireflies.

If the kingdom looks familiar there are some quirks. One of the stepsisters (Olivia-Faith Kamau as Gabrielle) is good-natured; the parents of the prince (Jacob Fowler) are dead and he is influenced by a saturnine fixer, Sebastian (Lee Ormsby); and the most spectacular transformation is of the fairy godmother herself (a superb Julie Yammanee). Gabrielle’s love for a firebrand (Adam Filipe) is neatly paralleled in the way Cinderella encourages social responsibility in the prince.

A revolve stage keeps the pace brisk, with amusing winks to the occasional clip-clop tempo. If only the book, uniformly delivered with American accents, was more sprightly. There are a few laughs – the stepmother (Annie Aitken) isn’t always terrible, we’re told, “sometimes she sleeps” – but it is often pedestrian and has a style of deadpan humour that jars with the lyrics’ elegant splendour. Even though Katie Ramshaw is a wickedly entertaining evil stepsister, the script drains threat and darkness from the story.

But under Audra Cramer’s musical direction, the songs are euphoric enough to save the day and Mouat makes you believe Cinderella’s revolutionary kindness can be a superpower. She doesn’t put a foot wrong.

• At Hope Mill theatre, Manchester, until 11 December.