Just five minutes into the opening scene of Cinderella and all of us in the audience sigh with relief, settle back in our chairs, grin widely and start whooping and cheering behind masks.
It’s an utter delight of witty lyrics, great melody, blisteringly hot male bodies in tight leather shorts and tongue-in-cheek milk maids lasciviously milking a fake cow.
The costumes! The wigs! The dancers! The six packs! But most of all, the tears of joy we can see brimming in the eyes of pretty much every member of the cast. As well as rather closer to home.
Because, bloody hell and after endless delays, we are actually sitting here watching a brand new, West End musical, starring multi-award-winning Carrie Hope Fletcher and written by Emerald Fennell and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
There’s a full orchestra blasting out up in the gods. A fantastic set on a fully revolving stage. And hundreds of passionate theatregoers who have waited and waited for this moment as, time and again, Covid regulations have thwarted progress.
Rebecca Trehearn is pictured above as the Queen in Cinderella. Everyone here on the very first night of the previews knows they are lucky — that they have the golden ticket. Demand — and emotion — are higher than ever, and every seat could have been sold many times over
No wonder the legendary composer and impresario — looking rather shattered and watching intently from the other side of the stalls — finally allows himself a tentative smile, a tapping toe and perhaps even a teeny bit of hope.
Hope that London theatre can recover; that restaurants and hotels will feel the knock-on effect; that his cast and crew can put 15 months of uncertainty behind them. Even if it is all still socially distanced and running at a loss.
And that maybe soon, he can also finally stop ploughing in £1 million a month of his own money to keep his seven London theatres (including the Palladium and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane) afloat.
Lockdown has done nothing to dim the ardour of this crowd. Everyone here on the very first night of the previews knows they are lucky — that they have the golden ticket. Demand — and emotion — are higher than ever, and every seat could have been sold many times over.
The buzz started in the queue outside — where people had travelled from all over; Scotland, Cumbria, Cornwall and East Sussex. Some en famille, others in maxi dresses and sequins, several in sparkly Cinderella dresses.
Lisa and George Sandeman are dressed to the nines, have had their tickets cancelled three times in recent months, but would wait another year if they had to.
‘We’re huge fans of Andrew. We think he’s amazing — he’s paying for the empty seats himself! We love him so very much.’
Jade from Derby had somehow secured tickets not only for Friday’s opening night but also both performances on Saturday and a couple more next month.
‘I work in a meat-packing factory, which isn’t very glamorous,’ she says. ‘So this is the other side of the world for me. It is total escapism and I can’t get enough of it.’
Her pal Megan is here for Carrie. ‘I’ve supported her for years and she’s my biggest inspiration — perfect, stunning. And that voice!’
It’s all a bit much for retired detective Alison Farr, 56, from Northamptonshire. ‘I love going to the theatre and I’m so emotional about being back I’m going to cry,’ she says. And promptly does.
She’s not the only one. Half the cast have been in tears all day.
Just this afternoon, Cinderella/Carrie Hope Fletcher ran down the theatre’s main staircase, saw the merchandise stall for the first time and burst into tears, saying: ‘I can’t believe it’s actually happening!’
The buzz started in the queue outside — where people had travelled from all over; Scotland, Cumbria, Cornwall and East Sussex. Some en famille, others in maxi dresses and sequins, several in sparkly Cinderella dresses
She first ‘workshopped’ the part of Cinderella back in June 2019 and has spent most of the intervening time waiting. And waiting.
Most of the cast and crew have had a bit of a rubbish time. Some have worked as labourers or fitness instructors. Others have given dance or singing lessons via Zoom.
The ugly sisters tell me they’ve mostly just eaten and drunk the time away.
Lord Lloyd-Webber has spent the past 15 months doing everything possible to save London’s devastated theatre community.
He has lobbied the Government and proffered the Palladium as a test lab for Covid-proofing techniques such as chemical mist sprays and self-cleaning door handles. He has campaigned relentlessly for an end to social distancing in theatres.
Lord Lloyd-Webber has spent the past 15 months doing everything possible to save London’s devastated theatre community
Last week, along with Cameron Mackintosh and the live music industry, he sued the Government to try to force it to hand over the results of its live-event pilot scheme, which has seen test audiences attending events such as the FA Cup Final, the Download festival and the Brit Awards, while theatres are still operating at cripplingly reduced capacity.
No wonder his cast and crew all adore him and call him ‘our hero’.
But forget all that for now. Because Jade from Derby is right. Inside the Gillian Lynne Theatre is another world. A better, more uplifting and — thanks to Emerald’s witty and original script — funnier place, where love is all that matters and Cinderella is a Goth with lank hair, black lipstick and a penchant for graffiti.
Her love interest, Prince Sebastian, is played by Ivano Turco from Milton Keynes who had never before set foot on a West End stage.
Fresh out of dance school, he auditioned for a part in the ensemble but was cast as the male lead — with no acting experience at all and a CV about a centimetre long.
‘We couldn’t find anyone I was really happy with,’ says Lord Lloyd-Webber. ‘Then Ivano came in as a dancer, someone heard him sing and called me. And that was that. He’s straight out of school! He’s adorable!’
The first standing ovation came before the curtain even lifted, when Andrew leapt on to the stage for a quick hello, a thank you and to beg: ‘Be kind. Be kind to us.’
Rebecca Trehearn, as the self-obsessed Queen, is a triumph. And when Ivano nailed his first West End solo, the applause was stupendous, leaving everyone, including him, in tears.
‘I was so nervous,’ he told me afterwards. ‘This is everything I’ve ever dreamt of.’
Not many people would be brave enough even to consider launching a brand new £6 million musical in a pandemic. But Andrew isn’t really like the rest of us.
He is determined, bloody-minded and also utterly genuine when, later, he hugs a shellshocked Ivano and cries: ‘Well done. Bravo, bravo, bravo! I’m so proud of you, I can’t tell you. Fantastic!’
And he’s right. By the end, the entire place was on its feet, roaring and cheering through masks.
We’d laughed, we’d cried and we’d all been to the ball.