Covid saw the show postponed for two years but nothing could stand in the way of Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester staging the European theatrical premiere of the Broadway musical version of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. The show opens this week with Grace Mouat taking on the lead role of Ella. Venue founders Joseph Houston and William Whelton are leading the creative team for this production, with Houston directing and Whelton co-directing and choreographing. Quays Life caught up with them to find out why the show is so special to them and what audiences can expect.
Cinderella seems to be one of those musicals that people have been desperately waiting to see brought to live on stage in the UK for a long time – has it always been a show that you wanted to produce?
Joseph: “This version of Cinderella has always been a show that we have wanted to produce at Hope Mill. We both remember growing up with Disney’s remake of the musical, starring Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, so it’s always had a special place in our hearts. I think that because the show has a long history, from its creation in 1957 starring Julie Andrews in the title role, then another version in the 60’s starring Lesley Ann Warren, it is a show that has been loved by generations.
William: “This version is the 2013 Broadway version, which is having its European Premiere with us. What makes this particular version special is that it has a whole new script and also features cut songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s back catalogue, so audiences are in for a truly unique theatre experience”.
It’s the first time we will have seen a R&H show at Hope Mill – have you always wanted to do a more ‘traditional’ musical alongside some of the more modern productions like Rent and Spring Awakening?
William: “The beauty of Hope Mill is that the space allows you to recreate shows in a completely unique way. Mostly, all the shows we have produced have at one time or another been on Broadway or in the West End, but they are completely reimagined for our space and Manchester. We have seen the success of what can be done with traditional musicals when they are revived, such as the recent Young Vic production of Oklahoma. The challenge is taking full scale Broadway musicals and scaling them down, but nothing is Impossible and it allows us to find even more within the story and score, as well as having audiences up close to the magic”.
Why do you think Cinderella is a good fit for Hope Mill?
Joseph: “At Hope Mill we love a challenge and have always had ambitions with all of our work, and this show is another opportunity for us to push the boundaries and challenge ourselves. Almost everyone knows the story of Cinderella, but this version brings in so many more new characters and storylines, some of which are extremely relevant. Add into that the musical genius of Rodgers and Hammerstein and one of duo’s most beautiful scores and it has everything that we love to offer our audiences. Last year we produced a revival of The Wiz musical, which brought in so many families, young people and children to the venue, which was amazing. We wanted to make sure that we had another family offering, so that people of all ages can come and enjoy a Hope Mill show”.
The production was originally planned for 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic. It must feel so special to finally bring it to Manchester?
William: “To say that this show has been long anticipated, would be a major understatement. We were extremely saddened when we had to cancel the show’s original run in 2020, and couldn’t wait to bring the team back together again and find our cast. Being able to Premiere this piece in Manchester, is not only special for us but for the city”.
Tell us about the cast – as usual it seems like you’ve assembled a really fresh, exciting, talented cast?
Joseph: “The cast we have assembled, like with all Hope Mill shows, is truly incredible. Alongside some of the industry’s most exciting performers, we also have newly graduated talent within the show. We are thrilled to have West End star Grace Mouat in the title role, and alongside Jacob Fowler, they are set to wow audiences”.
You founded the venue together but this will be the first time you’ve directed and choreographed one of your own productions together – was this always something you both knew you’d want to do at some point?
Joseph: “Before opening Hope Mill Theatre we both worked creatively together on a panto version of Cinderella, in Cheshire, but this is the first time we are working together creatively on a Hope Mill show. Will has choreographed a number of our previous musicals, including Hair and Pippin and I have directed Proof and The Exonerated, but it has been a long time coming that we are finally coming together to work on a musical.”
William: “We both have such a passion for Musical Theatre, having both trained and then met whilst working in musicals, so to bring our creative minds together and in the venue that we both founded is very special”.
What can audiences expect from the show?
William: “This show has everything that you want from a musical. Magic, spectacle, stunning scores, a hilarious book, full out dance sequences, a set and costume design to rival any large scale musical and a cast that are ready to blow the roof off the Hope Mill Theatre. It’s unmissable!”
Finally, what do we have to look forward to in 2023 from Hope Mill?
Joseph: “There is so much to look forward to at Hope Mill in 2023. We launch the year with the return of Turn On Fest, our annual LGBTQIA+ arts festival. We will of course be bringing musical revivals and premieres. We will also be producing a brand new play, which will also have a London run”.
William: “We will be sharing more about our shows currently in development and potential exciting news about the future of Hope Mill. On top of that we will continue to showcase home grown talent and theatre from across Greater Manchester and provide valuable opportunities for local people and young people in Manchester”.
Cinderella is at Hope Mill Theatre from 1 November to 11 December 2022.