A glittering version of the ever-popular pantomime Cinderella opened to a packed Milton Keynes audience last Friday featuring celebrity dancer Louie Spence and singing star Deniece Pearson.
And judging by the reaction of both the children and adults as they left the auditorium, the show looks set to become another huge triumph for the theatre.
While the couple play Prince Charming’s aide-de-camp – with the emphasis very much on ‘camp’ – Dandini, and the Fairy Godmother respectively, this year’s two panto stars are eclipsed by Kev Orklan in the role of Buttons.
A proven all-round entertainer, Orklan takes control from the start and just like Paul Burling in last year’s Milton Keynes pantomime Aladdin when he played Wishee Washee, it’s Buttons who steals the show with his witty quips, comical gestures and amazing piano playing.
Sadly he was restricted to just one song, a stunted version of Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing’ played as if it were copied from a cracked recording, while his classical concert pianist background clearly equalled that of the keyboard player in the show’s five-man orchestra.
Putting that aside, Cinderella follows the traditional rags to riches story of a pretty down-trodden girl who is overshadowed by her two older, and very ugly, sisters only to win through in the end and gain the hand in marriage of the dashing Prince Charming.
The story opens with a blinding flash from which the Fairy Godmother (Deniece Pearson) appears to set the scene. She introduces the audience to the villagers of Milton-on-the-Moor where Baron Hardup (Tim Hudson) is the Lord of the Manor. Financially he is being bled dry by his two ugly daughters Peaches (Paul Burnham) and Pixie who is played by John Barr who starred as Window Twankey in Aladdin last year. The sisters have spent their money on a holiday home in, wait for it… Dunstable!
Meanwhile there are the usual references to other locations such as Bletchley and the Eaglestone estate where the residents are so posh that, according to the mischievous Buttons, they even get out of the bath to have a poo!
With the pirouetting arrival of Dandini (Spence) resplendent in his purple tights, the panto goes into camp overdrive. He pokes fun at himself throughout and with so many references to his sexuality, the double entendres might go over the top of some youngsters but it left my two grandchildren in fits of laughter. They had been avid watchers of his antics in the Pineapple Dance Studio tv programme and were very well aware of all the innuendoes.
A chance meeting in the forest between Prince Charming (Andrew ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘The Lion King’ Derbyshire) and Cinderella (Anna Williamson of ITV’s Daybreak plus a long list children’s television shows fame) sees the pair instantly fall in love.
I couldn’t help wondering why Cinderella was so well dressed in what appeared to be a slightly shabby ballgown when tradition says she was usually in rags? But that remains a mystery!
However once Cinders is given a ticket to attend the Prince’s ball by Buttons after her hateful sisters force her to tear up her original. There is a rapid on-stage dress change which transforms Cinderella into a truly beautiful princess wearing a wonderful glittering gown and sparkling tiara. I’ve always been left wondering just how do they that? Cinders is also taken to the ball in a beautiful coach pulled by two tiny white Shetland ponies which brought the curtain down on Act One.
There is the usual string of recent hit songs by the likes of Olly Murs (‘Dance With Me Tonight’) while a version of the Beatles ‘Let it Be’ and ‘Once Upon a Time’ is sung by Deniece Pearson. She is a former member of the Brit Award-winning group Five Star and, not surprisingly, those two songs both feature on her latest solo album.
Having left the ball on the stroke of midnight, Cinderella leaves behind a slipper and the show follows the standard routine of the Prince (with the help of Dandini) trying to find its owner. Dandini is tripped by one of the ugly sisters which results in the smashing of the glass slipper. But luckily a matching one is quickly produced by the love lorn Buttons and the Prince naturally gets his bride despite the unhelpful antics of Cinders’ two siblings.
It all makes for a really good evening out with plenty of laughs along the way so it’s hats off once again to Panto scribe extraordinaire Eric Potts who is again responsible for this year’s version of Cinderella at Milton Keynes Theatre.
Potts is the script writing talent behind no fewer than nine other Pantomimes being stages up and down the country over this festive season while last Christmas, he and the First Family Entertainment production team gave us Aladdin starring Gareth Gates when the singer’s infamous stammer became the running joke throughout the show.
This time he was able to pick on Louie Spence’s pronounced lisp which drew laughs throughout the panto but just like Gates’ stammer, it is never meant in a cruel way.
If you go and see just one pantomime over this festive season, then the Milton Keynes Theatre version of Cinderella will almost certain shine above anything else with its fabulous staging, glittering costumes, catchy songs and witty script.
There are eight excellent dancers in the ensemble and it also features a neat tap routine, the eight being joined by a local juvenile ensemble which is split into two teams according to which show you see.
Cinderella really is a winner which leaves you smiling and it runs at the Milton Keynes Theatre until January 6.
For booking details, call the box office on 0844 871 7677 (group bookings on 01908 547609) or log onto http://www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes