There's a touch of magic in the air thanks to Birmingham Hippodrome's pantomime Cinderella. With a celebrity packed cast, sparkling sets, colourful costumes and some hilarious song and dance routines, it has all the ingredients to be another super smash for the theatre.
It's the first panto for Wolverhampton songstress Beverley Knight, whose previous roles include The Bodyguard, Memphis the Musical and Cats. And Knight has proved to be a real find for the show as not only does she bring star quality to the songs but she's also a fun and lovable Fairy Godmother.
Also new to panto is Danny Mac, taking a break from the national tour of Sunset Boulevard to play the role of Prince Charming. After his success as a Strictly Come Dancing contestant last year it's no surprise to hear plenty of Strictly jokes and to see Mac swivelling his hips in a medley of dance. Choreographer Alan Harding is certainly demanding more from Mac as a dancer than is usually asked of pantomime princes.
Birmingham has become a huge fan of comedy actor Matt Slack, now in his fifth consecutive panto at the Hippodrome. This year playing Buttons, Cinderella's best friend, he's a huge audience favourite and plays up to them with his usual blend of craziness, comic songs and the odd daft walk. Indeed the Hippodrome is so convinced that Slack is an audience-puller, the theatre has already announced him as Smee in next year's Peter Pan, an unusual step for the Hippodrome which usually keeps the names of cast members under wraps until late spring.
Slack is backed up by the Grumbleweeds and the two ugly sisters Voluptua (Ceri Dupree) and Verruca (David Dale) whose gags are a blend of silly, smutty and slapstick, showing that panto always needs a touch of ribaldry for the adults and some belly laughs for the children.
Former Hear'Say singer Suzanne Shaw has gone on to build a successful theatre career and is becoming an old hand at panto so she is thoroughly confident as the put-upon Cinderella who wins her Prince Charming in the end.
First staged at London's Palladium last year, the show, directed and produced by Michael Harrison of Qdos Entertainment, has been re-written to ensure its relevance to the new cast, to current news and to Birmingham. So the Strictly humour features Debbie McGee, there are Theresa May and Donald Trump allusions and there are lots of jokes which only the locals will understand – even Birmingham City Council's recent industrial dispute with its refuse collectors is given a mention!
Harrison and Qdos always promise Birmingham a mega-panto and they've pulled out all the stops this year with carriages and horses which fly into the audience and a clever transformation in which Cinderella changes from peasant girl to princess on stage. Backed up by lavish sets, an array of quick change costumes and some jazzy dance routines, it's a feast for the eye. The team know what makes a good pantomime and with this year's Cinderella they've ensured the Hippodrome another winner.
Cinderella plays Birmingham Hippodrome until 28 January.