Finally! After multiple false starts and delays, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Emerald Fennell’s sassy, sarky, musical take on the rags-to-riches fairytale proves well worth the wait. Cinderella has a terrific palette of songs, a snappy contemporary edge, and a star – Carrie Hope Fletcher – whose voice is both beautiful and powerful enough to knock down walls. Never mind the plot, submit to the spectacle: around a quarter of the audience will literally feel the earth move under their feet.
It’s set in Belleville, a mashup of feudal France and modern, Love Island-style body snobbery and romantic cynicism. Periwigs and bustles rub up against washboard abs and cantilevered bosoms. Even by musical theatre standards it’s fantastically camp.
Cinderella is a Goth refusenik in this culture of perfection. She and Prince Sebastian – drippy brother of the missing, hyper-masculine Prince Charming – are chums. This prefiguring of their romance leads the story into difficult contortions later. Never mind. Ivano Turco makes a confident West End debut as a passionate, tremulous Sebastian. Although he sometimes lacks precision, this is his own Cinderella story.
Fletcher rightly gets the best tunes, from the anthemic Bad Cinderella to the plangent I Know I Have a Heart. But Lloyd Webber delights in riffling through musical genres. Muscular courtiers work out to the martial thump of Man’s Man. There’s a sly Parisian wink in the accordion-backed I Know You, where Rebecca Trehearn’s dizzy but dangerous queen and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt – huskily channeling the likes of Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford as Cinderella’s Stepmother - recognise each other as social climbers. Theirs is a great comic double-act.
Laurence Connor’s production mixes panto-style archness with professional West End glitz and springs its big surprise in Act Two. At the ball, the stage and several rows of the stalls audience start to revolve, thanks to Lloyd Webber’s lockdown refurbishment of this theatre. It’s a magical moment. There’s another delightful surprise later that’s crucial to the plot and that has frankly been a long time coming in a major West End musical.
The odd couple of Lloyd Webber and Fennell strike fascinating sparks, and David Zippel’s lyrics are sublime. Still, it’s not perfect. The slang and the subtext will date quickly. The costumes and choreography are sometimes fabulous, sometimes meh. The story stutters to an awkward halt. But you forget all that in the bigger numbers, and whenever Fletcher takes the stage and opens her heart. This show became a bellwether for the future of the West End. Its opening bodes well.
Gillian Lynne Theatre, booking to Feb 2022, andrewlloydwebberscinderella.com