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Cinderella (Andrew Lloyd Webber) - Review

Disclaimer: Before I begin I just want to note that this post is my own individual thoughts. Like anything I fully recommend you go along and see the show yourself and make up your own mind. The most wonderful thing is we all like different things.

The brand and the much-delayed world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cinderella is finally open at London's Gillian Lynne Theatre after numerous delays caused by the pandemic. This new adaptation of the classic fairy tale features a book by Oscar winner (for Promising Young Woman) Emerald Fennell with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by David Zippel.

This adaptation roots the story in the fictional town of Belleville. The town is recently mourning the loss of The Queen's eldest son Prince Charming and is about to unveil a statue as the town prepares for judging for the most attractive town competition which it's won for the previous 49 years. The statue is unveiled to be found covered in spray paint done by the rebellious 'bad Cinderella' and with the town in danger of ruin The Queen decides that there needs to be a Royal wedding that'll save it from doom and the search begins for a bride for Prince Sebastian. Here begins the story which adds a bit of freshness to the much-told tale. 

The cast of Cinderella. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Does this version work? Ultimately for me, it's a no, although the cast is outstanding, the problems here come from the book. I think the biggest problem this production has is it doesn't really know who its target audience is. Largely I was surrounded by families with children under 10, but this show features some swearing and the occasional naughty reference. It's also a little dark in places. The Godmother so often the sparkling saviour prior to sending Cinderella off to the ball here is in the guise of a plastic surgeon and it's generally a bit of a strange sequence.

You lose the glamour of the transformation, it simply happens behind a curtain after a bizarre scene. The whole thing feels a bit unnerving as Cinderella wants to be completely transformed from her usual goth-like attire to a glittering ball gown. It feels very lacking in the magic that you'd expect from this moment - gone are the carriage and pumpkin. I felt the choice just didn't land, it's very gritty and I'm not sure how appealing that is to a younger audience. 

We slip further away from a younger audience in a sequence with the 'hunks'. It feels like you've suddenly stumbled into Magic Mike. You can't say this even added to the story. It makes Prince Sebastian, the Queen's youngest son, look shy and a bit weak but plot-wise I'm not sure it's adds anything. It certainly detracts a bit from the whole feminist feel of the story.

The script itself doesn't feel particularly strong either. Some scenes could be tightened up or cut completely in. Some of the jokes you see coming a mile off and then just don't land. As mentioned there is the occasional swear word too which feels a little unnecessary. Though lines like "shut up you knob" did make me chuckle but mostly cause it's so out of the blue. Me and my lovely friend Sarah who I attended with often looked at each other with puzzlement and bemusement as to some of the lines or choices made.

The Ball. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's score has some really great moments. Songs like 'Only You, Lonely You' and 'I Know I Have A Heart' stand out as the best numbers from the show. 'Bad Cinderella' is an earworm that annoyingly has not left my head since the show. For me though there are certain songs that feel too long and laboured too which could easily be tightened down.

Some songs seem to be completely irrelevant. The number 'I Know You' sung by The Stepmother and The Queen where they sing about how they seem to know each other from their past. It wasn't clear by the end of the number or the end of the show where they actually knew each other from or even the relevance if they did know each other what did that matter. 

The ending feels rushed too (spoiler alert for those who might not have guessed that Cinderella gets her prince). The relationship pay off between Cinderella and Prince Sebastian just seems sudden and okay they're together here's the happy ending and that's it. I guess we all know it's coming but that moment feels very rushed.

The biggest jarring moment in the story for me is the act two return of Prince Charming. He quite literally appears out of the blue to return and "save Prince Sebastian from a loveless marriage". Charming's return means the wedding is cancelled or is it? Charming then proceeds to introduce us to his boyfriend. The part of the story really does feel like they were just ticking boxes when writing the show. Adding a gay storyline is a brilliant celebratory thing but it does feel a bit tokenistic in the way they've done it here. They could have tied it in better rather than playing it off as a small moment.

Visually the production is superb, although I'm not sure Belleville screams the most attractive town. The lighting by Bruno Poet is striking and visually aids the vibe of the scenes. The costumes by Gabriela Tylesova are stunning - they're lavish and match the right feel that they're going for. 

I was lucky to be sat in the rows that mean 'you're moved in more ways than one'. This is a really fascinating and quite a special thing! For about 20 minutes towards the start of act two, you get an experience that is quite unlike anything you'll experience in any other theatre. Is this just a gimmick? Well, it might be but it does create a great moment and a memorable experience.

Georgina Onuorah and Ivano Turco. Photo by me.

The strength of the show is the outstanding cast, none of which I could fault. On the performance, I attended I had the great pleasure of seeing Georgina Onuorah make her Cinderella debut as Carrie Hope Fletcher was indisposed by illness. Onuorah was a triumph, she was so self-assured, confident and believable in the role. Her vocals are a treat. It was a thrill to make her shine.

Onuorah is matched by another superb young star in Ivano Turco's Prince Sebastian. He too fits the role perfectly and his voice soars and is a real treat to listen to. The pair of them will hopefully continue to shine for many years in the future, they certainly possess the talent for it.

There are some fabulous supporting performances too. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt has a blast as The Stepmother, how she manages to maintain the husky voice she's given the character is brilliant. Laura Baldwin and Georgina Castle are great fun as the stepsisters, they relish their moments and it's nice to see these two roles done slightly differently especially Castle's Marie. Rebecca Trehearn always delivers and she's gloriously over the top as The Queen. Gloria Onitiri has such a powerful voice and adds real mystery to the Godmother.

For me, were I rating the show I'd probably give it 2/3 stars. The cast deserves SO much credit for their fantastic performances, especially Onuorah and Turco but they're let down by a weak script. I applaud the effort to add something new to the Cinderella canon of adaptations. It's probably not the worst Cinderella adaptation ever but there's certainly enough 'bad Cinderella' here.

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