Gillian Lynne Theatre, London
We needed this. The return of the big classic shows to packed houses in the Barbican, Chichester and Sadler’s Wells has been invigorating, but Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella is brand new, a lockdown baby strugglingly finished, created and finessed with once-unimaginable difficulties (dance auditions online…). It’s opened, closed, suffered pings, and cost Lord LW huge sums to back even while the old trouper campaigned and researched Covid-Safety. I wanted to like the actual show. Luckily, I really did.
Who could not? Emerald Fennell’s exuberant version of the old tale is a sparky modern rom-com, led by a fabulous Carrie Hope Fletcher as the grungy, rebellious Bad Cinderella, not only slaving for a stepmother but amusing herself in prim Belleville with a bit of vandalism, and a boy-girl friendship with weedy Prince Sebastian, while the foxy Queen and her court of leaping, leather-fetish hunks mourn the manly elder brother, Charming.
The opening town scenes are a wicked inversion of old Brigadoonery, as a jolly chorus turns to a pitchfork mob against our sturdy heroine, the “unpleasant peasant, unwelcome present”. Rebecca Trehearn’s nymphomaniacal queen (that first crinoline is positively explicit) turns out to have an old frenemy in Victoria Hamilton-Barritt’s huskily bitchy Stepmother. The motive for the hasty royal marriage ball is the tourist trade. Sebastian is a pawn, mocked by the leathery hunks with their choreographed circuit-training push-ups and burpees.
The brilliant trick is the show’s have-cake-and-eat-it ability to debunk all the traditional glamour and romance while actually indulging it: the central couple may address each other with lines like “Shut up you knob!” and question their inner motives in a very modern angsty way, and the transformation scene is actually a powerful and sinister attack on the love-island cult of cosmetic surgery. But we still have the spectacular costumes and oh-wow scenery, and the famous revolve of the entire front stalls for the ball scene, bringing the cast breathtakingly closer to every seat, and of course the music.
It’s ALW all the way: there’s the overture that tantalises you by nearly turning into every tune you ever hummed from Loch Lomond to Lady Gaga, the pastiche nostalgia of a French accordion sequence, a few gorgeous power ballads (Ivano Turco throws it out there as Sebastian, Hope Fletcher moves with fabulous ease between pathos and raucous) and plenty of big orchestral emotion (are there really only nine musicians up there?)
So yes, he’s done it, the old fox. Got the right author, right lyricist, right director, designer and team, and with them pulled the perfect rabbit from his big, glittery-witty, musical revolving top hat. Respect.
BOOKING@LWTHEATRES.CO.UK running well into 2022 I bet