How 'Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cinderella' brings the fairy tale into the 21st century
The Cinderella story isn't a new one. Elements of the Cinderella fairytale originate from as early as Ancient Greece, however the “Cinderella” trope in which a downtrodden young woman finds a new life became popular in the 19th century.
In recent years, there’s somewhat of a Cinderella musical theatre renaissance — Anna Kendrick played Cinderella in the Into the Woods movie, Camilla Cabello added a poppy flair in the 2021 Cinderella film, and now Carrie Hope Fletcher plays the title character in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newest musical, Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. But how do you add new life into a well-known story?
“People’s view of Cinderella may be like a young fairytale whereas this we inject a little bit of sex, a little bit of darkness, reality and consequence”, said Georgina Castle, who plays Marie, Cinderella’s stepsister. In this Cinderella, there’s conversations about plastic surgery, superficiality and an unexpected royal wedding, as well as soaring Andrew Lloyd Webber melodies and splendid period costumes.
So how does Cinderella in the West End speak to a modern-day society? We sat down with the Cinderella cast about creating their roles, the musical evolving over time and Cinderella life lessons.
Cinderella is at the Gillian Lynne Theatre.
The Cinderella cast toyed with multiple character ideas
Creating a role from scratch was a joyful task for the Olivier-nominated Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, who plays the Stepmother, but it’s not without its difficulties. “I find it hard coming into a show and recreate what someone’s done before. I love creating new roles, for any actor they must feel the same way. That's when it all makes sense why you’re doing this in the first place. Painting by numbers isn’t as… orgasmic!”
Starring in Cinderella is somewhat of a childhood dream for Hamilton-Barritt too. “When I was a child, I watched Cinderella’s “bippidy boppidy boo” transformation scene everyday before school. I loved watching the transition and the godmother furiously dancing around her. I used to fast forward the film on VHS just to watch that!”
For Castle, taking on a new character offers a chance to breakaway from previous roles. "At drama school, I was forced to play characters like the young doe-eyed thing, so to play something that’s bitchy is great. The one thing you have to be careful of is that the personality doesn’t seep through. I wanna make sure I’m not turning into a completely horrible person!”
Emulating your character in real life isn't the only tricky part of creating a character. "There’s no one to bounce ideas off if things are working, and you’ve only got your gut instinct" continued Castle. “Actors go out on stage and we’re often big personalities but then you’re battling the insecurity and if things are working. Is it funny? Is it not funny? Finding the balance was a hard process at times but the show is settled now, it knows what it is. Now it’s a joy because you play with the characters you’ve created.”
Even if there weren't direct comparisons for particular roles, the Cinderella cast wanted to emulate certain stars in their characterisation. For Rebecca Trehearn, who plays the Queen, she looked to over-the-top performers to bring a new lease of life into a stately role. “Certain actresses and characters sprung to mind, like Miranda Richardson in Blackadder and Jane Krakowski, I can hear them in my head.”
Meanwhile from the start, Caleb Roberts, who plays Prince Charming, sought a character with a powerful presence. “I thought about the superstar rockstars that were in my life. I looked at princes, royalty, Michael Jackson, Barack Obama — all completely different. But they have that kind of unbelievable aura that when they walk into a room, everyone stops and is still.”
For Ivano Turco, who came into Cinderella fresh out of drama school and landed the role of Prince Sebsatian, originating a new role was a bucket list ambition ticked off straight away. “The most important thing for me was seeing how other actors worked in the space and how they approached creating these characters. They don’t teach you that in drama school! I was trying to be a creative sponge and absorb everything everyone was doing and apply those techniques to think “oh okay” on the basis of early foundations of creating characters. I didn’t think I’d do that fresh off the bat, so that was really eyeopening.”
Cinderella’s road to the West End was long and winding
Cinderella wasn't an established musical for Turco to fit right in to. Cinderella's road to the West End took many years: After workshop performances at The Other Palace in 2019, additional research and development, rehearsals and previews, the Cinderella opening night finally arrived in August 2021. Some of the West End cast did appear in original workshops though, and have continued to be a part of the show’s extensive changes.
“Cinderella hasn’t stopped changing, quite frankly”, said Hamilton-Barritt. She played the Stepmother in the workshop, so she’s been a part of the production for nearly four years. “Even now every day when we do a show, it’s forever evolving. I certainly feel that I’m always evolving in the character and I think everyone is as well. That’s what’s fun about doing the same thing every night. You see and think different things that were there before! You can still play, as long as you’re allowed to play, then it’s pleasurable.”
I did the first workshop in 2019 and wasn’t cast until late in the day”, said Trehearn. Originally, Trehearn played Marie in Cinderella workshops at The Other Palace, but then didn’t rejoin the production until the West End premiere. “I wasn’t part of the many workshops between then and now, but it was a different show in 2019, and yeah it has changed. We’ve tweaked at things along the way.”
Cinderella’s arduous development process wasn’t simple, however injecting new ideas into the show helped the musical transform and become ball-ready. “With the nature of any new show, there’s always just more ideas. Throughout the whole process, the creative team (including Promising Young Woman creator Emerald Fennell) came back and added new moments. We had a song taken away in the opening and it’s been put back in”, said Roberts.
Castle backs up Roberts’ thoughts on Cinderella evolving over time, but also credits the people who see the show in its many changes. “With an audience, it helps so much. You can feel when you’re on stage if they’re listening and paying attention. Cinderella started like a real comedy caper, and then we brought more heart into it, and then it ended up losing a bit of its sparkle. So we’ve injected the fun and comedy back in. I think it’s really come to life because I think it has both. I think the show is full of heart with an amazing love story that runs through, but it’s also really damn funny."
Cinderella stands out as a feminist fairytale
What is the Cinderella rhythm though, and how can this Cinderella stand out from other West End musicals? Put simply by Turco, “this one draws a big dick on the statue”, and that’s true. Cinderella’s first onstage moment is her standing on a giant statue, spray-painting genitalia all over town. But it’s not always the overt messaging that sees this Cinderella standing taller above the rest.
Ultimately, Cinderella is at the heart of this story. “It’s the most feminist take to me” said Trehearn. “It’s a show about strong women. I know it’s a cliche, but all of the women know what they want and own our strength… I sound like a Hallmark card.”
But unlike a greetings card, you won't think about what's inside for a few moments and then discard it. This Cinderella musical is here to stay. There’s important lessons to takeaway to that speak to a 21st-century society.
“The homoerotic undertone of a lot of the show is also important”, said Castle. “You realise from the audience’s reactions that when there are moments like that, they’re really surprised. In this industry, we live in a bubble. Whereas for an audience, their reactions are always positive but there’s an element of alarm. We need to get out there harder and more.”
For Roberts, he wants people to understand that it’s okay to fit into a society when you might not be the right fit. “For 70% of Cinderella, there are all these songs and scenes about how good Prince Charming is. But by the end of musical, it’s okay to be who you are and be genuine, rather than be something that you’re not.
With so many different things going on and glamorous things around, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “I’m not good enough.” especially for young people. Hopefully, if you see the show and understand what it’s saying, then you’d think you’re good enough.”
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