Every theatremaker has faced high hurdles to get their shows on over the past 18 months, but the challenges faced by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, originally due to open in September 2020, have been especially high-profile hurdles, leading to the kind of special Government and media attention that hasn’t always enamoured the rest of the industry with the Lord.
But despite threats that Cinderella might be cancelled for good, or exported to a more supportive arts climate, here it is at last and, I am happy to report, this ball of a show was worth the wait.
I was lucky to attend last week’s gala night, just over five weeks on from when, caught up in the pingdemic thanks to a cast member’s positive Covid test, the show’s last-minute cancellation turned England’s so-called ‘Freedom Day’ (19 July) into Cinderella’s closure day.
Debut book writer Emerald Fennell, who’s already bagged an Oscar and two BAFTAs for her Carey Mulligan-led film Promising Young Woman, shows her musical theatre promise is already well developed. Her reinvention of the story focuses on female empowerment, taking swipes at plastic surgery and ideals of beauty, while also celebrating a surprising Prince Charming sub-plot.
For Carrie Hope Fletcher’s grungy rebel Cinders – who, in a parallel musical dystopia, is besties with We Will Rock You’s Scaramouche – rather than Prince Charming, it’s his wet younger brother Prince Sebastian who provides the romantic interest and, potentially, a route to the throne.
I missed newcomer Ivano Turco in the role but instead had the thrill of being discovering his understudy Michael Hamway. Hamway stopped the show in Act One with his rendition of Lloyd Webber’s plaintive ballad Only You, Lonely You and then again in Act Two with his unexpected dancing prowess.
There are also plenty of show-stopping comedy moments care of superb supporting actresses – Georgina Castle and Laura Baldwin as the vain stepsisters, Rebecca Trehearn as the randy Queen, and especially Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, whose evil Stepmother is so over-the-top she could punch a hole in the ozone single-handedly.
Trehearn and Hamilton-Barritt provide striking visual treats too, swishing across the stage in the most sumptuous of the show’s gowns by Gabriela Tylesova. The set and costume designer has also worked wonders inside the concrete gore of the Gillian Lynne Theatre, with a beautifully dressed stage that reveals its full revolving glory as the ball gets under way after the interval.
I’d go again for the set alone, but the full fairy-tale package works its magic.
Production photography by Tristram Kenton.