Music and Orchestrations by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics by David Zippel
Original Story & Book by Emerald Fennell; Book Adaptation by Alexis Scheer
Directed by Laurence Connor; Choreographed by JoAnn M. Hunter
Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street
by Shani R. Friedman on 4.6.23
Linedy Genao and Ensemble in Bad Cinderella. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.
BOTTOM LINE: Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber returns to New York with his 13th Broadway musical, jazzing up the Cinderella story in this lightweight crowd-pleaser.
The easy jokes suggested by a title like Bad Cinderella proved, for many New York critics, hard to resist; it's easy to come in with low expectations if you read many of their reviews. Like & Juliet, Bad Cinderella is a revisionist take on a very old story, one that aims to be rather feminist, or at least progressive, in its approach. Yet much to my pleasant surprise, I found in Bad Cinderella a new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that, while perhaps not the darling of the grumpier New York critics, still proves to be a fun, entertaining production, and features several terrific performances.
In the Kingdom of Belleville, "Bad" Cinderella (Linedy Genao) earns her nickname from the townspeople, whose motto is “Beauty Is Our Duty.” Cinderella is in revolt against their shallow, perfection-obsessed, surgically enhanced mentality. Her punk aesthetic and fondness for tagging their works of art (an enormous statue of the Kingdom’s beloved but MIA Prince Charming) do not go over well; they are so enraged by her indifference to their values that they want her head on a spike.
It's no better at home, where her stepsisters Adele (Sami Gayle) and Marie (Morgan Higgins) order her around like a servant, and her stepmother (Carolee Carmello) threatens to toss her out (even though it's Cinderella's house they all live in). Her one comrade, who feels the same disdain and disgust for their way of life, is Prince Sebastian (Jordan Dobson). But his mother the Queen (Grace McLean), along with the rest of the Kingdom, has little use for the younger prince; Sebastian's intelligence and sensitivity appear to be no match for the "manliness" of his missing elder brother.
Bad Cinderella is more than a bit saucier than your average fairy tale. The “Hunks” (Prince Charming's soldier pals) are all shirtless (except for their leather harnesses), which plays well in the song “Man’s Man,” one of my favorite numbers. The Queen and the Hunks sing of their deep affection and admiration for the missing Prince as they list all the ways he is so much better than his brother (and throw in some homoerotic notes to boot). There is also the less-than-savory secret connection between the Queen and the Stepmother, which gets hinted at in the very funny “I Know You.”
Everyone’s fixation on physical appearances, and the quest to continually "improve" them, is fed by the Godmother (Christina Acosta Robinson), who provides transformations in the form of plastic surgeries and other enhancements—for a price. There’s a parade of bandaged and bruised young women to fawn over Sebastian after the Queen announces that he will assume the throne, and then further carving up of bodies when the Queen seizes on the idea of a ball and a quickie wedding to stop a pending peasant rebellion she thinks is coming after Bad Cinderella defaces the prized statue. And there are of course several surprises and twists before the happy ending. It's all accompanied by striking pops of color—whether in townsfolk daywear or ball gown extravagance—in Gabriela Tylesova's costumes.
Jordan Dobson, Grace McLean, and "The Hunks" in Bad Cinderella. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.
There is justifiable applause when Carmello first enters. As the Stepmother, she is perfectly haughty and obnoxious, not to mention consistently hilarious, whether she is leveling her daughters (“Unfair” is another catchy number) or going toe to toe with the Queen. McLean is also a delight, playing imperious, rash, and lusty—for the Hunks, but also (it would seem) for her missing son. And if you haven't guessed, Prince Charming doesn't stay missing forever; his entrance late in Act Two is a hoot, and Cameron Loyal plays to the hilt the Prince who is as in love with himself as is everyone else around him. Dobson brings empathy and soul to Sebastian, and gets to sing (and sing again) "Only You, Lonely You," one of the show's signature, most Andrew Lloyd Webber-y numbers. And as the title character, the spirited Genao sings the hell out of her multiple solos, including the earworm of the title song.
Bad Cinderella is by no means perfect. Stop to think for even a little bit and you will notice significant issues with the book—Where does the Godmother come from? Where even are we when we see her? And what's the deal with that necklace? But at a time when women, the LGBTQ community, indeed anyone who is seen as "other" or "lesser," are all under attack, a show that denounces oppression and censorship, and that champions freedom, self-esteem and independence—even a silly musical with a featherweight story—is indeed something to celebrate.
(Bad Cinderella plays at the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street, in an open-ended run. Running time is 2 hours, 25 minutes with an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7; Wednesdays at 2 and 8; Thursdays and Fridays at 7; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $39 - $169 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200. For more information visit badcinderellabroadway.com.)
Bad Cinderella is by Andrew Lloyd Webber (Music and Orchestrations), David Zippel (Lyrics), Emerald Fennell (Original Story & Book), and Alexis Scheer (Book Adaptation). Directed by Laurence Connor. Choreographed by JoAnn M. Hunter. Scenic and Costume Design by Gabriela Tylesova. Lighting Design by Bruno Poet. Sound Design by Gareth Owen. Hair and Wig Design by Luc Verschueren. Production Stage Manager is Bonnie L. Becker.
The principal cast is Linedy Genao, Carolee Carmello, Grace McLean, Jordan Dobson, Sami Gayle, Morgan Higgins, Cameron Loyal, and Christina Acosta Robinson. The ensemble is 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.