Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Cinderella’ is the revisionist fairytale we all need
We could all use a fairytale right now after the year (and a half) we’ve had. A little escapism to drown our troubles and remember that sometimes happy endings and dreams do come true.
Well, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella is a different kind of fairytale, one that, instead, reminds us of our humanity and that sometimes things turn out as you least expect them to. Who wants to ride off into the sunset anyway when you could make mistakes and learn some things along the way?
That’s certainly been the case for the show, which has had a journey to the West End full of stops and starts. From the postponed 2020 opening due to the pandemic to a twice rescheduled opening night, Cinderella finally raised the curtain at the Gillian Lynne Theatre on Wednesday night, its first with a full capacity audience, and even though this series of delays wasn’t in the plans, there’s some unexpected poetry and parallel to the show itself. Spoiler alert: Our titular heroine might make it to the ball but things don’t turn out in conventional fashion.
Emerald Fennell, in a triumphant West End debut as a book writer, has crafted a modern day princess, a “Bad Cinderella” as she calls herself, who has been outcast by the superficially perfect town of Belleville for her antics and pranks. Her seemingly two-dimensional step-sisters despise her, and the town has blacklisted her too, complete with torches and pitchforks.
Cinderella’s childhood best friend, Prince Sebastian (a charming and emotional Ivano Turco, in a beautiful West End debut), has just begrudgingly been named the Crown Prince after his elder brother supposedly died in battle. The pair meet in the woods, each afraid to publicly admit their affection for the other.
All the makings of a traditional Cinderella are here. A conniving step-mother in the delicious Victoria Hamilton-Barritt who chews on every piece of Gabriela Tylesova’s storybook scenery as she attempts to manipulate the proceedings. There’s a doting and delirious queen (Rebecca Trehearn, channelling Marie Antoinette), and the duet between the two “I Know You” is a masterclass in musical comedy.
The entire score is full of Lloyd Webber earworms, and I defy you to leave the theatre without humming any of them. Highlights include “Only You, Lonely You,” “Bad Cinderella,” and “Cinderella’s Soliloquy,” but there’s not a dud in the bunch and the orchestrations soar, particularly at the ball. David Zippel’s clever lyrics offer a surprising rhyme at every turn.
You’ll also find a fairy godmother, of sorts here, played with a devilish flair by Gloria Onitiri, only it doesn’t take magic to transform Cinderella, rather, beauty treatments and ultimatums. Her number “Beauty Has a Price” is the one place where the show starts to get big Promising Young Woman vibes, Fennell’s Oscar-nominated film, as the cost of what it takes to fit in and meet the male gaze is held under a microscope.
And Carrie Hope Fletcher fits into this role as if it was made for her, which it seems to have been. Her grunge-punk princess is more Olivia Rodrigo than Disney, and Fletcher excels equally on emotional ballads and angry duets. She’s a new kind of princess, one that little girls and big girls alike, could all use.
Director Laurence Connor’s production is neat and precise, complete with a jaw-dropping set piece during the ball and eye-popping costumes from Tylesova, and while Fennell’s script wanders on and off course a bit at the end, with a few mini conclusions, isn't that a little bit like life? Full of stops, starts, endings, and new beginnings? Happily ever after is certainly due for the rebranding it’s getting at the Gillian Lynne. Here’s to a new kind of fairytale.
Photo credit: Carrie Hope Fletcher, Laura Baldwin, Victora Hamilton-Barritt, and Georgina Castle in Cinderella, (Photo by Tristram Kenton)