Andrew Lloyd Webber may not be in fashion at this exact moment, but he remains the master of get-your-money’s-worth musicals. Lloyd Webber has devoted his life to perfecting his signature blend of rock’n’roll, choral music and power-drill organs and synthesizers, all topped off with a heaping scoop of spectacle (one could easily lose an afternoon to watching YouTube videos of the chandelier crash in Phantom of the Opera alone). Donald Trump is said to be fond of his pomp-filled productions. The King of England invited him to compose a song for his coronation in May.
Lloyd Webber’s latest, Bad Cinderella, now on Broadway after a tumultuous start in London’s West End, is not lacking in the sweeping melodies and staccato punctuations that are the bedrock of the ALW sensibility. This time he’s playing around with one of the most vanilla chapters in the book of Brothers Grimm. The result is a production that is cheerful, a little cheeky, and not a little chaotic.
Bad Cinderella, which has a double entendre-heavy script written by Emerald Fennell (the Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman screenwriter and a family friend of Lloyd Webber), falls in step with Broadway’s current craze for what-if stories with a feminist bent. The hunky prince has been swept to the sidelines, for we learn early in the show that the prince is dead. No longer beholden to the marriage plot, Cindy gets her chance at liberation. But a yearning for true love also rumbles within, ultimately compromising this show’s efforts at defying convention.
The staging owes a great debt to the school of Disney, with eye candy aplenty. The bon-bon aesthetic comes to us courtesy of Gabriela Tylesova, who designed the twinkly sets as well as the mouthwatering costumes, a colorful parade of voluminous dresses that would have Carrie Bradshaw’s eyes pinwheeling. An even more rousing visual is the gang of shirtless men who are on hand to burst into Magic Mike-ish dances at the drop of a beat. The French town of Belleville is an equal opportunity land of vanity. Female characters prune and primp and book plastic surgery appointments, and are seen sporting bandages on their faces (whether this is a nod to the masked hero of Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera or our current Ozempic era is anyone’s guess).
The behind-the-scenes story has been anything but beautiful. The original London production that was supposed to open in the early days of Covid was postponed several times before its painfully short and unprofitable run. Lloyd Webber did not take the city’s pandemic protocols in stride. He declared that he was determined to open at full capacity, even if it meant his arrest. At the final show last May, after less than a year of a stop-and-start performance schedule, director Laurence Connor read a letter by Lloyd Webber over a chorus of boos, calling the production “a costly mistake”.
Still helmed by Connor, the show has been rejiggered and features a new cast, including its lead, Linedy Genao, the first Latina woman to star in a Lloyd Webber production. It is hard not to root for a woman who was, until recently, a bank employee. She gives the role her all, including a flair for stomping around the stage and giving Cinderella a Brooklyn accent. The highlight, though, is I Know You, an arch and expertly executed duet between the Queen (Grace McLean) and the Stepmother (Carolee Carmello) that should give all the Real Housewives a run for their money.
Cinderella spends her time palling around with Prince Charming’s younger, dweeby, chinless brother Sebastian (Jordan Dobson). Dobson is a thoroughly modern leading man, a supposed schlub with killer dance moves and pipes that belie his skinny frame.
As the show moves into its second act, the theme of rebellion dissipates. Cinderella undergoes a makeover and arrives at the ball virtually unrecognizable, all sequins and curves and eyelash extensions. And thanks to the twist that falls from the sky, she is free to indulge in her fairytale ending-curiosity.
This Cinderella doesn’t have that much to say in the end. But if bubblegum melodies, outfits that slay, and pectoral-forward fun is what you’re after, the shoe fits.