Mr. Cinders is a musical. The music is by Vivian Ellis & Richard Myers, and the libretto by Clifford Grey & Greatorex Newman. The story is an inversion of the Cinderella fairy tale with the gender roles reversed. The Prince Charming character has become a modern (1928) young and forceful woman, and Mr. Cinders is a menial. The show captures the last frantic gasps of the roaring twenties before the gloom of the Great Depression settled in.
After a tryout in Blackpool in September 1928 and three-month provincial tour, the musical opened in London at the Adelphi Theatre on 11 February 1929 and moved to the London Hippodrome on 15 July 1929. It ran for 528 performances. It starred Bobby Howes and Binnie Hale, and became a signature piece especially for Howes. The musical had immediate international success in continental Europe and elsewhere. A revival took place at the Streatham Hill Theatre in April 1930, and the show was adapted for film in 1934.
The show was revived at the Fortune Theatre in April, 1983 with Denis Lawson in the title role and ran for 527 performances. When Lawson left the show Lonnie Donegan took over the part, quickly followed by Lionel Blair, but without Lawson the show soon folded.
The currently available professional score is for: 2 pianos, cello and single woodwind player alternating between flute and soprano saxophone. There is no conductor's score showing all the parts. 1st piano is the basic accompanying instrument although the part does not entirely suffice on its own; 2nd piano tends to play mostly decorative jazzy arabesques over the foundation of the first piano although it does (inconveniently) sometimes carry essential tune fragments; the cello part is melodic and is not a bass line; the woodwind part can be easily and effectively played on the clarinet, the few flute parts being transposed by the player. The score is stylistically something along the lines of a cross between Billy Meyerl and George Gershwin and in fact a melody fragment from Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is quoted within the 20th Century Drag.
Jim is the adopted and abused son of Sir George Lancaster and his snobbish and cruel wife, Lady Agatha Lancaster, the widow of Sir General Bloodwing Beardsley. Jim works as a menial at Merton Chase, their elegant home. Lady Agatha dominates her weak husband and plots to marry her two foppish sons, Lumley and Guy (from her previous marriage) to wealthy girls, since the Lancasters have lost their fortune. Guy, however, is in love with a woman named Phyllis Patterson, whom Agatha rejects because of her lack of money. Jim keeps his spirits high, with the philosophy that one should Spread a Little Happiness. Jill is an American heiress who lives next door at a stately home, The Towers, with her wealthy father Henry Kemp and her cousin Minerva (who, like Jim, is the poor relation of her family).
When Guy is credited with saving Henry from drowning (a task which Jim actually accomplished, unbeknownst to anyone but him and Guy), all at Merton Chase are invited to a costume ball at The Towers, but Jim is not allowed to attend. Jill, meanwhile, has disguised herself as a servant girl, Sarah Jones, in order to hide from a police officer who has accused her of physical assault on him. Minerva pretends to be Jill, and every man at Merton Chase is captivated by her beauty.
Jim, with the help of Jill, crashes the ball disguised as a famous South American explorer, the Earl of Ditcham. Lumley reveals that Jim is an imposter. Also, Jill's priceless necklace is found in Jim's pocket, leading everyone at the ball to believe that he stole it. Jill helps Jim escape, and they capture Smith the butler, the real thief, and leave him tied up for the authorities to arrest. After the ball, a hat is found that belongs to the valiant person who captured the thief (instead of the glass slipper). A search for the owner shows that it fits only Jim. He wins the £1,000 reward and learns that the maid "Sarah" is actually Jill, and she and Jim agree to get married. Lumley and Guy, meanwhile, announce their engagements to Minerva and Phyllis, respectively. All ends happily.
The musical numbers in the 1929 version were:
- True to Two – Lumley
- I'm a One Man Girl – Jill, Jim
- On with the Dance – Minerva (Lumley's girlfriend)
- "Spread a Little Happiness" – Jim
- Buda-Pest –
- She's My Lovely – Kemp
- Ev'ry Little Moment – Minerva, Lumley
- I've Got You, You've Got Me – Jill, Jim
- I'm On a See-Saw –
- The Swan – (instrumental)
The numbers in the 1983 revival were:
- Tennis - Lady Lancaster, Guy, Lumley & Ensemble
- Blue Blood - Lady Lancaster, Guy, Lumley & Ensemble
- True To Two - Lumley, Enid, & Cynthia
- I Want The World To Know - Guy & Phyllis
- One-Man Girl - Jim & Jill
- On With the Dance - Minerva, Lumley, Guy & Ensemble
- Dying Swan - Instrumental
- At The Ball - Jim, Guy, Lumley
- Spread A Little Happiness - Jim
- Spread A Little Happiness (Reprise) - Jill
- The 18th Century Drag - Minerva
- On The Amazon - Jim
- 18th Century Drag (Reprise) - Jim, Sir George & Ensemble
- Please, Mr. Cinders - Jill
- She's My Lovely - Henry
- Every Little Moment - Minerva & Lumley
- I've Got You - Jim & Jill
- Honeymoon For Four - Guy, Phyllis, Lumley & Minerva
- Spread a Little Happiness (Finale) - Full Cast (minus Lady Lancaster)