*This review is based on a preview performance of Cinderella.
In one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s recent press statements, he described this production of Cinderella as ‘the first world premiere of a new musical in this country since the pandemic’. However, others online correctly noticed that there have indeed been other original musicals mounted on the UK stage since the pandemic began. After seeing Cinderella, I’d venture to say that the show isn’t that new at all. Yes, some aspects of the well-known fairytale have been updated for modern times, but much of it will feel very familiar.
In the opening number, we’re introduced to the picture-perfect town of Belleville which has won the title of the best town in the land 49 years in a row. The townspeople quickly turn on Cinderella when they learn that she’s defaced the community statue of the adored Prince Charming. The songs which express the collective anger and suspicion towards Cinderella are very much reminiscent of “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast and ‘‘What is This Feeling?” from Wicked.
The plot thuds along from there fairly predictably. There’s a Royal Ball, a beauty transformation and the instruction that Cinderella must be home by midnight. What I imagine most audiences will be interested to know is whether Oscar Award-winning writer Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) has made enough of her own mark on this reimagining to differentiate it from the others (see Stiles & Drewe’s Soho Cinders, Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and the countless other film adaptations).
I’ll begin by acknowledging that at 27 years old, I’m perhaps not the target audience for this show. But for what my view is worth, the first act felt like a long slog; it had one too many cringe-inducing scenes and by the interval, I was left feeling cold. I’ve grown tired of seeing women such as the step-stepsisters being stereotyped as stupid bimbos. I’ve grown tired of seeing a stepmother characterised as evil without any insight into her motivations or any scope for character growth. I might be in the minority here, but I’ve especially grown tired of scenes which are solely designed to present male eye candy to the audience (i.e. topless men with ripped bodies and six-packs) and tell a male protagonist to ‘be a man’. Instead of building interesting three-dimensional characters, the writing mostly relied on disappointing and lazy character tropes.
But by the second act, an unexpected twist in the storyline made me warm to the musical a lot more. The secondary LGBTQ+ friendly plotline, although gimmicky, was surprisingly heart-warming and suddenly made this retelling feel like a worthwhile endeavour. Of course, the musical could have done a lot more to meaningfully represent LGBTQ+ relationships, but that might be asking too much.
Carrie Hope Fletcher delivers a gutsy portrayal of Cinderella. Unfortunately, the material didn’t give her that much to work with to make the character really come alive, but she did the best with what she was given. Newcomer Ivano Turco as Prince Sebastian also made his own mark on the role as the sheepish younger brother to Prince Charming. One of Turco’s dance breaks was a highlight of the evening. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt was mesmerising as the evil stepmother and stole each scene that she starred in; she would send ripples of laughter through the audience with the smallest of gestures or each cracking delivery of a line.
Many of the original songs, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by David Zippel, felt peculiar and at times repetitive. But there were stand-out songs such as ‘Bad Cinderella’ and the ballad ‘I Know I Have a Heart’ which may become popular with young audiences. The saving grace of the show is that all the other design and creative elements were world-class. The costumes by designer Gabriela Tylesova were exquisite and the choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter was spell-binding.
Although this Cinderella might be slightly different to the versions you may be familiar with, as far as West End shows go, I think there other family-friendly musicals which deliver much more exciting and original storylines.
Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton