Published in The Mail on Sunday August 21, 2021
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella has finally made it to opening night – but while no pumpkin, it’s a little short on theatrical fairy dust.
Emerald Fennell (Killing Eve) has updated Cinderella as a rebellious goth, in boots and black lipstick, who’s been friends with Prince Charming’s weedy younger brother Sebastian her whole life.
After Prince Charming goes missing in battle, Sebastian must step up – compelled to take a bride from a ball by midnight, for fairly silly plot reasons. It is Sebastian’s shyness, and Cinders’ stubbornness, as much as her lowly circumstances, that stand in the way of their happy-ever-after.
The royal family preside over a hysterically vain, shallow, image-obsessed society, irresistibly styled in Gabriela Tylesova’s frothy, picture-book costumes. The ugly sisters are beautiful but vacuous, while a camp wicked stepmother is played with husky hauteur by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt. Her duelling duet with Rebecca Trehearn’s Marie Antoinette-style Queen is a comic highlight.
Cinderella begins as a very modern heroine, not caring about her looks or trying to fit in – until all the fawning female competition for her best pal’s hand in marriage leads her to seek a makeover.
The show seems always on the edge of making some dark statement about the true cost of beauty, with the under-explored suggestion that Gloria Onitiri’s fairy godmother is a sinister plastic surgeon-cum-Mephistopheles figure.
But ultimately, this Cinderella rather wants to have its sugary cake and eat it. Of course, Laurence Connor’s production ends with a be-true-to-yourself sentiment – but not before filling its niftily revolving stage with hot young things in oceans of pink taffeta and sparkling heels, and much over-sexed strutting from topless men.
Against this, it is perfect casting to choose Carrie Hope Fletcher as Cinderella – her presence and heavenly vocals both ground and lift this show. You may see more subversive takes on Cinderella in a provincial panto, but Fletcher will appeal to misunderstood teenagers everywhere. As Sebastian, Ivano Turco can feel thin – until he starts singing, or dancing; then he’s a star.
The genre-hopping score is sprightly but somewhat bland, although each lead gets their full-blown, plush Webber ballads of note, Turco powering through Only You, Lonely You, and Fletcher stirring emotions with I Know I Have A Heart and Far Too Late. David Zippel’s lyrics are mostly broad and comic, although there are some horribly clanking rhymes.
Not Webber’s best, then, but it does deliver warm-hearted, frothy family entertainment – and there’s surely an appetite for that right now.