Theatre Review by Howard Miller - March 23, 2023
Bad Cinderella. 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.
Sounds a tad wacko, no doubt. But, frankly, the resulting stew is not nearly wacko enough. This goulash needs more salt and hot sauce. Even with its layers of offbeat humor, over-the-top performances, a plethora of musical styles, oddball plot twists, and, yes, romance, it seems to want to appeal to both fans of adapted storybooks (Wicked, anyone?) and of Lloyd Webber. I'm not sure it can do both, or if either is well served here.
In any event, welcome to Belleville, the perfect fairytale land in which perfect people start the day early, marketing their roses, fresh milk, and colorful ribbons in the opening number, "Buns 'n' Roses." It all seems like something out of a Disney film, say Beauty and the Beast, until the baker chimes in with the clearly single-entendre, "Hot buns! Check out my hot buns! Surely there are not buns, equal to mine." It's then we know we are not in Belle's hometown of Villeneuve, but in a place that might have appeared in a Mad Magazine parody, maybe even rising to the level of a "cheeky" Monty Python skit.
So far, so good. And there's plenty more where this comes from in Emerald Fennell's original book, Alexis Scheer's adaptation, and David Zippel's often fittingly clever lyrics. We quickly learn that Belleville is filled with mostly unpleasant, self-important, social climbing cartoonish characters. Sculpted into uniformity through the magic of the town's creepy plastic surgeon (Christina Acosta Robinson), they live happily superficial lives. There is only one fly in the ointment, that misfit known as Cinderella (Linedy Genao). Nonconforming and unpredictable, she ruins the unveiling of a statue of the long-missing Prince Charming, beloved by one and all, especially by his obsessively doting mother the Queen (Grace McLean). The Queen takes comfort in surrounding herself with buff Chippendales-like courtiers who remind her of her eldest son, and she brushes off as insignificant his brother, Prince Sebastian (Jordan Dobson), next in line to the throne.
Everyone more or less gets along, but no one, it seems, likes this troublesome Cinderella. Certainly not her stepmother (Carolee Carmello) nor her stepsisters (Morgan Higgins and Sami Gayle). The only one in Cinderella's corner is her friend Prince Sebastian. Switch out Prince Charming for Sebastian, and you can readily guess the rest of the basic underlying plot.
While there is no carriage or mice footmen or search for the maiden whose foot fits the glass slipper (all are sorely missed), Act II does incorporate a fancy dress ball, pressure on Prince Sebastian to select a bride from those in attendance, a serious misunderstanding, a surprise royal shakeup (less of a surprise if you look at the cast list ahead of time), and, finally, the ending you'd expect. Omnia vincit amor!
Unfortunately, while both Cinderella and Sebastian are considerably more charming then, say, Prince Charming, they are, alas, far less interesting than the self-absorbed caricatures that surround them. This is true despite the fact that Lloyd Webber has given both Linedy Genao and Jordan Dobson some lovely ballads and soaring power numbers to perform, and the score overall boasts a wide range of styles that will probably sound much better on a cast recording, unencumbered by the convoluted plot. For the record, I loved the tiny sampling from Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical Cinderella that starts off both the overture and the title song, a tough-girl rock number that, with some lyric changes, would fit nicely into the score of Six.
Overall, Bad Cinderella is way out of balance. The title character tends to get misplaced and underutilized, while even the visual elements proffered by Gabriela Tylesova's set and costume design are overwrought; it looks as though acres of organza had been dropped into a vat of melted Crayola crayons before being sewn into costumes.
It's hard to say whose voice spoke the loudest with the production, but things might have fared better if director Laurence Connor had found a way to bring about some judicious snipping, beefed up the performances by the "villains" to a more cartoonishly toxic level of slapstick or farce, and allowed our charming Prince Sebastian and our modernized Cinderella some more space and visibility to shine.