What’s so bad about “Bad Cinderella”? Sure, it takes great liberties with the fairy tale, sexing it up, setting it to loud pop music, replacing the familiar story with a berserk comic plot and a twist that reflects 21st century progressive mores. But doesn’t “& Juliet” do the same thing to “Romeo and Juliet”? Doesn’t “Into The Woods’ also fracture fairy tales? Doesn’t “Six” put a loud contemporary spin on an old story?
It slowly occurred to me that the similarities may not be a coincidence – that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s thirteenth new Broadway musical, opening the day after his 75th birthday, may be his attempt to stay hip. Whatever his motives, “Bad Cinderella” is Lloyd Webber’s least original musical. That alone doesn’t make it bad. But it does make it baffling.
Competently acted and sung by a large talented cast, “Bad Cinderella” features an original score of nearly two dozen songs; the costumes are colorful, the sets look expensive, it’s the sort of show that an undemanding theatergoer, or one in the right mood for it, might find fun.
I didn’t find it much fun. I wasn’t horrified, just disappointed. Disappointed by the tunes, from a composer who has delivered distinctly memorable songs over the past half century. Disappointed that the book makes no sense; I don’t mean that it’s wild and crazy; I mean it doesn’t respect its own premise.
In the charming French city-state of Belleville, the Queen and all the townsfolk are sexy and superficial (“Beauty is our duty/From top to booty,” goes a refrain in the opening number.) In such a culture, Cinderella (Linedy Genao), who wears punk outfits and ratty black hair, is an outcast. But so is Prince Sebastian (Jordan Dobson), Prince Charming’s younger, wimpy brother, who seems to share her distaste for dressing well. The two misfits are best friends; they are each other’s only friends. They each secretly pine for one another, but are afraid to show it, and instead have a Sonny and Cher vibe, trading insults as their way of showing affection. The pining is expressed in one of the two songs that stand out, Dobson’s solo ballad, “Only You, Lonely You.”
The other song is a catty duet between Carolee Carmello as the Stepmother and Grace McLean as the Queen, I Know Who You Are, in which each threatens to expose the other’s tawdry beginnings; the Stepmother attempting to blackmail the Queen into making the Prince marry one of her daughters.
Cinderella and Sebastian might have remained platonic pals unaware of their mutual attraction, if Prince Charming had not gone missing in action, presumably dead. The Queen has commissioned a statue in his honor – and when it’s unveiled, somebody had spray-painted “Beauty Sucks” on it. Everybody knows this had to be Cinderella. This somehow hastens the Queen’s determination to marry off Prince Sebastian, now heir to the throne, by holding a grand ball, to which every woman in the kingdom, “post-puberty and pre-menopause” is invited to compete for his hand.
Cinderella has just sung the defiant title song about how she’s a “rebel” and how
I am me, Cinderella
I’ve a style all my own
And I will not change it for you!
Nevertheless, shortly afterwards she goes to the Godmother (Christina Acosta Robinson), no longer a Fairy; in fact the local plastic surgeon and owner of an overpriced boutique, which includes a pair of crystal shoes.
Cinderella gets an elaborate makeover — blonde wig, white gown, crystal shoes; the works — so that she looks exactly like all the other superficial beauties – and as a result Prince Sebastian doesn’t even recognize her. Complications ensue. This is where I gave up on “Bad Cinderella.” Both Cinderella, and “Bad Cinderella,” pose as non-conformist, but it is just a pose.
It seems pointless to delve further into the convoluted, increasingly incoherent story (“plausible” never having entered into the kingdom of Belleville.) But I will mention one more scene, when the bare-chested hunks that are Prince Charming’s friends (and Sebastian’s tormenters) tease Sebastian by throwing around Cinderella’s single crystal slipper, keeping it from him. At the performance I attended, the hunks failed to catch the slipper, twice, letting it fall to the ground, and scrambling to pick it up and throw it again. This didn’t look intentional; this looked like a mistake. But if it was intentional, why? What was the point? This was more or less the reaction I had to the musical as a whole.
Closing: June 4, after 30 preview and 85 regular performances
Running time: Two and a half hours including intermission
Tickets: $58-$318. Rush and lottery: $30
Music and orchestrations by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by David Zippel. Original story and book by Emerald Fennell. Book adaptation by Alexis Scheer. Directed by Laurence Connor. Choreographed by JoAnn M. Hunter. Scenic and costume design by Gabriela Tylesova. Lighting design by Bruno Port. Sound design by Gareth Owen. Hair and wig design by Luc Verschueren. Music coordinator David Lai. U. S. music supervision and direction by Kristen Blodgette.
Cast: Linedy Genao, Carolee Carmello, Grace McLean, Jordan Dobson, Sami Gayle, Morgan Higgins, Cameron Loyal, Christina Acosta Robinson, Savy Jackson, Mike Baerga, Raymond Baynard, Lauren Boyd, Tristen Buettel, Alyssa Carol, Gary Cooper, Kaleigh Cronin, Josh Drake, Ben Lanham, Ángel Lozada, Mariah Lyttle, Robin Masella, Sarah Meahl, Michael Milkanin, Chloé Nadon-Enriquez, Christian Probst, Larkin Reilly, Julio Rey, Lily Rose, J Savage, Dave Schoonover, Tregoney Shepherd, Paige Smallwood, Lucas Thompson, and Aléna Watters.
Photographs by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman