Review of the evening performance on April 1, 2023 at the Imperial Theatre in New York City. Starring Linedy Genao, Carolee Carmello, Grace McLean, Jordan Dobson, Sami Gayle, Morgan Higgins, Cameron Loyal and Christina Acosta Robinson. Original Story and Book by Emerald Fennell. Music and Orchestrations by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by David Zippel. Scenic and Costume Design by Gabriela Tylesova. Lighting Design by Bruno Poet. Sound Design by Gareth Owen. Choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter. Direction by Laurence Connor. 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission.
I've heard it said that a show is never as good as its best review, nor is it ever as bad as its worst review. Considering the critical drubbing Bad Cinderella took, I was steeling myself for a tough evening to sit through. Instead, within seconds of its start, I found myself succumbing to its (many) charms, and by the end, I was happy, lighthearted and feeling delightfully entertained. This colorful romp knows what it is: a silly, decidedly bitchy camp fest that skewers everything about this oft told tale while empowering the titular heroine. And just for good measure throws in some rather pointed commentary on the very self-absorbed urchins who seemed hell-bent on hating it. Is this Pulitzer Prize material? No. But it is a really great time and definitely worth a visit.
Book writer Emerald Fennell gives us everything we expect from the Cinderella story: the evil stepmother and her two stepdaughter henchmen, a fairy godmother, a fancy slipper, a massive makeover, a midnight deadline, and, of course, a prince who loves her. For good measure, there's also a wicked queen, and even an angry, pitchfork-wielding mob. Yes, everything is there to recognize, but none of it is exactly what you'd expect. Part of the delight of this romp is the discovery of how each familiar aspect of the story will be revealed and twisted before our very eyes. The book is smart, sassy and just subversive enough that the very people this is lampooning will have no idea that the joke's on them! Brava!
Another joy of this production are the Easter eggs hidden in the sumptuous sets and truly lavish costumes (both designed by Gabriela Tylesova) none of which I'll give away here. The way the many scenes whisk in and out (and spin and fly) is really exciting, if not exactly groundbreaking. And the giddily campy costumes, which must have cost a fortune, are equally gorgeous, at times inventive, and always haute couture. Bruno Poet's magical lighting adds to the style of the show, washing the stage in grand strokes of royal color, and deepening it with murky shadows. There is a visual fairy tale feast on that stage that simultaneously looks classical and very 21st century.
Director Laurence Connor sets a very brisk pace here, slowing down only on occasion, with even the scenic transitions blended into the often imaginative staging. There are a lot of moving parts here, and never once does it look like an impending disaster. More importantly, he has taken great care to lean into the camp and excess without ever going too far - a difficult scale to balance. A great deal of the story also unfolds in JoAnn M. Hunter's character-driven and...um..."athletic" choreography. Oh, heck, let's call it what it is: sexy, verging on dirty. Again, though, great pains have been taken to bring us right to the edge of overindulgence. Okay, maybe just a tip toe over the line once or twice, but always leaving you wanting more.
The company, from top to bottom, is wonderful, and they seem to be having the time of their lives up there, and why not? They have nothing to lose and all to gain. The ensemble is first rate - triple threats, all. My favorites were the two young gentleman and two young ladies who, especially in the opening number, "Beauty Is Our Duty," communicated across the stage with each other, primping, posing and pouting, as the young folk do on their cell phones, but on hand mirrors! How absolutely delicious and on the nose! They also do comic duty in the scene where they absolutely gush about a prince they haven't ever given a second thought to has just been announced as new heir to the throne. It was like watching 25 Insta reels and Tik Tok videos all at once. But the standouts of the evening are The Hunks (Josh Drake, J. Savage (undisputed King of Hair-ography), and Dave Schoonover), clad in harnesses and skintight black pants. They sweat and strike poses in a pair of riotous production numbers, whose titles speak for themselves: "The Hunks' Song" and "Man's Man."
The principal cast is aces, as well. As the Godmother, Christina Acosta Robinson practically ignites the stage with her devilish act one closer, "Beauty Has a Price." No bibbity bobbity boo here! Cameron Loyal as Prince Charming is equally fierce. His muscles have muscles, and his charisma is limitless. The casting people struck it rich when they found Sami Gayle and Morgan Higgins as the stepsisters, pretty to look at, but ugly in all the ways that count. They are comedy gold, one so air-headed she might pop if pricked, the other bitter but smart, both cruel. Brava to both for taking these characters and making a meal out of them!
It is amazing that there is any scenery left after each performance given the chewing it is taking from the deliriously delightful pair of Grace McLean as the Queen, and Carolee Carmello as the Stepmother. Rotten to the core, and as cruel and mean as they come, these egomaniac villains steal every scene they are in, with comic turns among the best in many a season. Of course, both are pros, and never overdo it, but they wring every laugh out of each line and lyric. Their duet, "I Know You," reminds me of the bitchy fun of "Bosom Buddies," such is their timing and chemistry.
The heart of the show rests on the shoulders of two up and coming young Broadway stars. As the young spare heir, Prince Sebastian, Jordan Dobson will steal your heart with a sincere performance that builds and builds. His big solo, "Only You, Lonely You" is a showstopper. I have seen him in three shows now, and he shines every time. He is going places, trust me. His (and our) leading lady, Linedy Genao is pretty much perfect as "bad" Cinderella, whose presence alone is formidable. That she sings like a bird and brings such sass and self-assured-ness to the role is an embarrassment of riches. Her ballad, "I Know I Have a Heart (Because You Broke It)" is sweet and powerful. This won't be the last we see of this rising star, I'm sure.
A favorite lyricist of mine since City of Angels, David Zippel is in good form, with witty lyrics and smart turns of phrase. He adds much to the characters, and he is in perfect step with the book. Of course, Andrew Lloyd Webber, name above the title and all, is as much a star of the show as any of the actors. I have to admit, I enjoyed this score a great deal. There are some lovely ballads and a plethora of catchy tunes here, even if he does lean a tad too much on the theme from the title song, itself a tribute to the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of the story. I'd buy the cast recording just for the overture, entr'acte, and entire gorgeous ball sequence that starts act two. His orchestrations are stunning.
There are two Lloyd Webber camps: the serious - Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Aspects of Love and the fun: Joseph..., Starlight Express, School of Rock. Bad Cinderella falls into the latter category. Is it perfect? No. The finale takes a tad too long to get there, and Gareth Owen's sound is muddled more than once. But if you go into it with the mindset to get lost in another world and just have fun, you'll get a lot of bang for your buck. These days that's a really good thing.