One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and one shouldn’t judge a woman by her ballroom gown, and one shouldn’t judge a show by its logo. Here’s the thing about Cinderella, the new Andrew Lloyd Webber production – it’s not bad, and the production is thus spared (at least from me) a quip about an early musical number in the show, ‘Bad Cinderella’, being an appropriate synopsis. It’s not quite up there with The Phantom of the Opera, either, granted: there were moments in the first half when my mind started drifting off a bit. But people aren’t going to attend Cinderella for the narrative. The second half is more enjoyable than the first, and there is an additional treat for members of the audience sat in the first few rows of the stalls.
If Prince Sebastian (West End newcomer Ivano Turco) sounds a little reedy, it goes with the character, somewhat removed from the muscle pumping men of the royal guard, who are infinitely more bothered about their next opportunity to go into battle than they are about palace security.
One of the musical numbers is aptly titled ‘Hunks’ Song’, and is promptly followed by ‘Man’s Man’. While the show does well to portray genuine love between people who are compatible irrespective of financial standing or personal appearance, the men are largely strutting their stuff as though this were Magic Mike Live!, and the women are largely fretting about what to wear. There are women who are captains of industry, or enjoying successful careers in law, medicine or engineering – just not here.
No production can, of course, be all things to all people. Emerald Fennell’s book has the sort of putdowns that leave the audience often laughing and occasionally gasping. There are some pleasant additions to the storyline that help to make the show more inclusive. JoAnn M. Hunter’s choreography sparkles in the big numbers. Cinderella herself (Carrie Hope Fletcher) has been given more of a personality than some other variations of the folktale. There’s a sarcastic streak, but not a malicious one, and only a very mildly rebellious one. Fletcher is, given the show’s title, rather underused: she has a lovely singing voice, and it was a slight pity we didn’t hear more of it. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt puts in a hammy performance as The Stepmother, which made the role more comedic than villainous: make of that what you will.
The set is as decent as a West End musical production would be reasonably expected to be, as is the lighting design (Bruno Peel) and the various costumes in the show (Gabriela Tylesova). The music and lyrics make this production what it is, however – one doesn’t (spoiler alert) feel short-changed by the lack of a visible golden carriage, for instance. A decent range of musical styles are deployed, even if an early number tries too hard to emulate Six. ‘Only You, Lonely You’, some way into the first act, is one of those soaring Lloyd Webber melodies that ends with a Very Long Note, eliciting cheering and applause from the audience. It’s the sort of song West End and Broadway audiences just adore.
Ben van Tienen directs a group of eight musicians ably – occasionally the orchestra sounds considerably larger than it is. The show is described as a “complete reinvention”, though this isn’t always for the better. By curtain call, it demolishes the concept of ‘they all lived happily ever after’ but this also results in a bittersweet rather than an altogether happy ending. That said, some interesting plot twists are lapped up by the audience: Prince Charming’s (Caleb Roberts) choice of life partner was both delightful and refreshing. A worthwhile theatrical experience, but don’t take it (just) from me – take it from the teenager in the audience who I overheard on the phone to a friend straight after the show, gushing with praise regarding the production’s high standard. And take it from a fellow theatregoer who decided to book to attend the royal ball again.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Welcome to Bellville! The most aggressively picturesque town in the history of the world, populated exclusively with gorgeous townsfolk who stop at nothing to achieve perfection. Bellville is a fairy tale come to life: a place where you can’t move without falling over a wishing well or a quivering milkmaid. Maintaining this façade is a full-time job, and one that is taken very seriously indeed.
The only person steadfastly refusing to live in the fairy tale is Cinderella, loud-mouthed, dripping with disdain, and more likely to roast Hansel and Gretel for dinner than play the demure and downtrodden maid, Cinderella is desperate to escape. But underneath it all, the loneliness that comes with being the town pariah is wearing on her.
It doesn’t help that her only friend, Prince Sebastian, has suddenly become the heir to the throne after the mysterious disappearance of his elder brother: sex god and charisma machine, Prince Charming. Suddenly thrust into the spotlight, the formerly shy and somewhat-less-sex-goddish Sebastian seems to be quickly growing into his brother’s enormous britches, and out of his friendship with Cinderella. But this change of circumstances also introduces something else to the relationship, a new spark which neither of them quite know what to do with. Could it be that these two old friends mean more to one another than they are willing to let on?
After a devastating PR disaster for Bellville, and with the threat of the guillotine glinting on the horizon, the Queen decides that the only thing to save the town (and her pretty neck) is a Royal Wedding: something colourful and distracting so the peasants don’t get too revolution-y.
All looks lost for the blossoming romance, until Cinderella meets The Godmother, who can fix any problem with a little incision and a couple of broken ribs. Maybe the answer lies where Cinderella has been refusing to look: in becoming the identikit beauty that everyone has always told her to be.
Written by Emerald Fennell
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by David Zippel
Directed by Laurence Connor
Choreography by JoAnn M Hunter
GILLIAN LYNNE THEATRE
166 Drury Lane
London, WC2B 5PW